The step from Liga MX to the Spanish champions is a big one, and the 23-year-old has a lot to prove.It would only be natural if Atletico Madrid fans and other onlookers in Europe are scratching their heads at Atleti bringing in Mexican Raul Jimenez.
After all, the striker has not yet nailed down a starting spot for the Mexican national team, and even though he was part of the 2012 Olympic-winning squad, the 23-year-old didn’t start a single game. Outside of Mexico, Jimenez is hardly a big name and he’s going to none other than the reigning Spanish champion.
But the deal, announced Wednesday with a fee more than $13 million, is a shrewd, intelligent signing from Atletico. The cost is a fraction of the almost $47 million that is Jackson Martinez’s release fee at Porto.
On the downside, Jimenez doesn’t have the explosiveness of Martinez and probably won’t score the number of goals the Colombian would at Atletico. Added to that, Jimenez is a risk, with Mexicans not having the greatest reputation at settling in Europe.
But that doesn’t mean Jimenez is a bad signing.
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The striker’s physique (at 6 feet 3 inches tall) marks him out from other Mexican forwards and it is matched by technical ability with the ball at his feet.
Watch highlights of his goals and you’ll see a player that is well-rounded. Jimenez is adept with both feet and especially good in the air - something his new coach Diego Simeone pointed out when Atleti played America last month in Mexico City and something the club's technical director noted in a news release Wednesday – and can score goals both from distance and close range.
Not the quickest, Jimenez does have that ability to provide moments of sheer magic, like his overhead kick from the edge of the penalty area to secure a key win for Mexico in World Cup qualifying against Panama in October.
But what the video reel won’t show is the other side to Jimenez’s game.
Jimenez is an intelligent player, with a knack for dropping off defenders to find that extra yard in the box and drifting into midfield or to the flanks to receive the ball and create space for others when required.
Simeone demands players with a high work rate. Jimenez ticks that box, too.
The fact that the Mexican has played consistently in a system at America with two strikers – like Simeone’s Atleti does – also bodes well.
A Jimenez-Mario Mandzukic combination has many of the same fundamentals as the 23-year-old’s most successful partnership at America alongside Christian Benitez, which propelled Las Aguilas to the Clausura 2013 title.
Benitez was the typical greedy, egotistical No. 9 – not necessarily bad traits for a striker – who Jimenez had to adapt to and work around.
But there is no absolute guarantee for Atletico Madrid in signing Jimenez, as there may be with Javier Hernandez, for example, even if Jimenez carries himself with an aura of confidence both on and off the field. The fact is that Jimenez will be entering a whole new different set of experiences and results will be expected quickly.
Jimenez’s tweets about being a Real Madrid fan a few months ago have naturally incensed Atletico fans and the Tepeji del Rio de Ocampo, Hidalgo native is not likely to be given a warm welcome at the Estadio Vicente Calderon.
It’ll be a genuine test of character early on, but good performances, playing with the right attitude and, above all, goals will change that quickly.
Back in Mexico, America’s Moises Munoz is confident that Jimenez has enough mental strength to overcome the challenge.
“Raul is an introverted, very centered boy with his feet on the ground and that’s why these opportunities have arrived,” said Munoz on Tuesday.
“I don’t have any doubt that he’ll do well, he has a lot of qualities,” the goalkeeper added. “(Jimenez) is disciplined, technically he is good and he sacrifices himself for the good of the team.”
Overall, it’s a perfect move for Jimenez at the ideal age, when he can still learn and improve. But it's also the right move for a player who already has the experience of titles, a World Cup, Olympics and 94 Liga MX appearances under his belt.
Jimenez’s hero Hugo Sanchez made the jump from Mexico City to Atletico Madrid 13 years ago, also at age 23. Matching Hugol’s career in Europe is an almost impossible task in this day and age, but Jimenez has all the requisite skills to do just fine writing his own history at Atleti.