ATLÉTICO

Better forestall Saúl: Barça have first refusal on midfielder

Barcelona have first refusal on Atlético midfielder Saúl Ñíguez after inserting a clause into the deal that took David Villa to the Calderón in 2013.

BEIN SPORTS

Saúl Ñíguez fashioned a magnificent goal in the Champions League semi-final against Bayern on Wednesday night, giving Atlético a slim advantage going into next week’s return leg. His slaloming run will also serve to increase demand for his services from European clubs, some of whom have already tested the water per Atlético’s resolve to hang on to one of their brightest talents.

There are bound to be inquiries in the summer. Saúl is 21, a probable future Spain international (who may even sneak into Vicente del Bosque’s squad for the European Championship) and he has had an outstanding breakthrough season at the Calderón.

Atlético will not be overly keen on doing business but contract negotiations with the player have hit a brick wall, with Saúl demanding an annual wage of five million euros, similar to that of Antoine Griezmann. His current contract runs until 2020 and he has a minimum release clause of 45 million euros.

If Atlético are tempted to cash in, as AS has previously reported, Barcelona have first refusal. If an offer for Saúl comes in from another European club, Barça can acquire the player by matching the amount. Barça inserted the clause into the deal that brought David Villa to the Calderón from Camp Nou in 2013, and includes a preferential purchase option on defender Javier Manquillo, who is currently on loan at Marseille.

Atlético sold 40 percent of Saúl’s rights to Quality Football Ireland in 2011, as reported by Football Leaks, so if an offer is made for the midfielder the third-party ownership fund will have to be consulted. Manchester United are among several Premier League clubs keeping an eye on Saúl’s progress and are thought to be considering a move.

This season Saúl has made 44 appearances for Atlético, scoring nine goals and providing four assists.