When Atletico Madrid were stunned by Juventus in the Champions League last season, surrendering a 2-0 lead from the first leg of their last 16 tie to lose 3-2 on aggregate, it looked like the end of Diego Simeone’s chances of leading the Rojiblancos to glory in Europe’s top competition.
While rumours of the manager leaving for Inter circulated, the departures of out-of-contract defenders Diego Godin, Filipe Luis and Juanfran loomed, while Antoine Griezmann’s move to Barcelona was a matter of when, rather than if.
His band of brothers, who had claimed the Liga title in 2014 and reached the Champions League final twice in three years, were falling apart.
But there has been no wallowing in that disappointment on the red-striped side of Madrid this summer.
Their response to a flurry of key departures has been a deluge of big signings – all with a significant profit of over €100 million (£90m/$112m) raked in.
Their capture of Portuguese sensation Joao Felix has grabbed the most headlines and is perhaps the most exciting signing anyone has made over the entire summer so far.
The 19-year-old’s talent is evident but the problem he was presented with when deciding where to move next was his specific position, as a second striker, and the specific system he was playing in at Benfica.
Only one top level European team plays the same 4-4-2 that Aguias employ and only one top level European team was going to be able to play him in his best position – Atletico Madrid.
Thus, a move to the Wanda Metropolitano was the perfect outcome for both the player and the club, with an attacking recruitment such as Felix well needed after Diego Costa’s difficult return and Griezmann’s eventual, and controversial, move to Barcelona for a well-debated €120m (£107m/$134m).
The history Atletico have in producing and developing strikers is unrivalled too. Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero and Radamel Falcao have all taken their game to another level thanks to the Rojiblancos.
“Historically, Atletico buy young players to develop them here. Like what happened with [Jan] Oblak, [Jose] Gimenez, Lucas Hernandez when they came through from youth teams – or Griezmann,” Simeone said before the €126m (£113m/$142m) deal was announced.
“We want a talented guy who can absorb our ideas.”
Felix is not the only youngster Atletico have picked up either.
Ivan Saponjic, who has followed his team-mate from Benfica to Spain, is a 20-year-old striker with much less first-team experience but he has impressed at youth level with Serbia, helping them win the Under-20 World Cup in 2015.
Defender Renan Lodl, a 21-year-old Copa Sudamericana champion, also arrives from Athletico Paranaense with his eyes on the starting left-back role after Filipe Luis’ release and Lucas Hernandez’s record-breaking €80m (£68m/$90m) move to Bayern Munich, while 24-year-old centre-back Mario Hermoso is a €29m (£22m/$28m) arrival from Espanyol.
Marcos Llorente is another exciting project, the 24-year-old midfielder having arrived from city rivals Real Madrid with plenty to prove, while forward Nicolas Ibanez, at the same age, will not play at the Wanda Metropolitano until next season having returned to Mexican side Atletico San Luis on loan.
The collective arrivals of Saponjic, Lodl, Hermoso and Llorente cost just €87m (£78m/$98m), with Ibanez arriving for an undisclosed fee. That’s significantly less than the fee for which Griezmann has left – a fee which could yet increase as Atletico prepare to take Barcelona on in a legal battle over the transfer.
Add to that the profit made by selling Rodri to Manchester City, who activated the midfielder’s €70m (£63m/$79m) release clause, and Atletico's net spend is looking very impressive indeed.
Atletico Madrid statement:— Goal (@goal) July 12, 2019
"We believe the €120m fee is insufficient to meet its rescission clause, since the commitment of Antoine Griezmann and Barcelona was closed before the clause was reduced from €200m." pic.twitter.com/9NkVOTThYt
Rodri, 23, arrived from Villarreal last summer for a €20m (£18m/$22m) fee, plus bonuses, and has been replaced efficiently by the recruitment of both Llorente and Hector Herrera, the 29-year-old arriving from Porto on a free transfer.
Herrera brings experience to their list of ins, as do Felipe and Kieran Trippier. The former is well-needed central defensive recruitment, arriving for a €20m (£18m/$22m) fee from Porto, while full-back Trippier adds athleticism and attacking intent for just €22m (£20m/$25m).
Throw in the fact that Atletico have earned over €40m (£36m/$45m) from the offloading of Luciano Vietto, Gelson Martins, Roberto Olabe and Joaquin Munoz, all deemed surplus to requirements, and it is no surprise Simeone goes into the new season with optimism despite a changing of the guard.
“It's a difficult transition we're going through, but we face it with hope,” he said, with more arrivals still a possibility given the reported interest in James Rodriguez and David Neres.
“It is a challenge and today we have to face it because we are losing senior guys who have given a lot to the club.
“We are looking for Atletico to compete again as they have done so far. For seven and a half years, we were second, third, first, second. It's not easy.”
It will not be easy to gel together a new band of brothers, but Simeone is the perfect man to do it.
For all their incredible transfer dealings this summer, keeping him in the dug-out could be Atleti's best bit of business.