Inter Milan has announced the arrival of 26-year-old Croatian international right-back Sime Vrsaljko on a one-year loan deal for €7m, with the option to buy him at the end of the 2018/2019 season for a fee which could rise to €25m, and Atletico Madrid has every reason to pat themselves on the back for a beautiful piece of business.
Sim Vrsaljko is a player who is coming into his own. He firmly established himself in the Atletico first team last season, owing to the injury sustained by Juanfran, and discharged his duties rather impressively, making a total of 21 appearances in La Liga for Atletico. He also started in the final for their 3-0 victory over Olympique Marseille in the Europa League.
The Croatian followed that up with one of the standout performances from a full-back at the World Cup, starting six out of seven matches, and contributing immensely with his impressive forays going forward.
Vrsaljko had a pass accuracy of 79.3% at the World Cup, supplying 7 successful crosses and 5 key passes. He also chipped in with an assist in Croatia's eventual runners-up finish. He is a player whose stock is on the rise despite being a relatively late bloomer at 26.
In his stead, Los Colchineros announced the signing of Colombian international Santiago Arias from PSV for a reported fee of €13m from PSV, who also impressed by starting all four of Colombia's matches at the World Cup.
While Vrsaljko added quality to the Atletico team, it is easy to justify his replacement by Arias, as they are almost identical in every regard.
A Colombian international since 2013, Santiago Arias has 45 caps to his name (not too dissimilar to Vrsaljko who has won 41 caps), they are both the same age (being born only 3 days apart), with Vrsaljko being the taller of the two by a mere one inch.
They have also each won trophies in non-major European leagues. Vrsaljko won six titles with Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia, while Arias won 5 trophies during his 5-year stay in Holland with PSV Eindhoven. Vrsaljko, however, has more European experience, having starred in Atletico's Europa League triumph.
They are also very similar in playing patterns. Both are true modern-day full-backs with their runs forward and excellent crossing. However, Arias is the superior of the two when it comes to attacking forays, being named Eredivisie Player of the Year last season, having contributed six assists and 3 goals in PSV's title-winning campaign. He also had a passing accuracy of 82%. Vrsaljko is the better of the pair when it comes to defensive duties.
Juanfran has been Atletico Madrid's first choice right-back for the last five seasons, and he has performed with remarkable distinction, but at 33, he is starting to show signs of a decline and on evidence of last season, injuries could potentially become a recurring theme for him, so Diego Simeone is justified in seeking replacements.
Whether Santiago Arias would be immediately slotted in as the first choice right-back at the expense of Juanfran or used sparingly as an alternative understudy remains to be seen.
However, one cannot help feeling that Atletico has replaced Vrsaljko with a slightly better upgrade with potential for improvement, and made a profit in the deal for good measure.Published 01 Aug 2018, 06:56 IST