It was a signing completed with just minutes of the summer transfer window to spare – and one celebrated by Chelsea supporters and championed by the club. “He is a proven winner, a player with huge experience and we know he will be very well-suited to the challenges that face us on all fronts in the coming year,” said Blues director Marina Granovskaia.
The player in question? Saul Niguez, who joined Chelsea on a season-long loan from Atletico Madrid. The arrival of the midfielder was viewed as the final piece of the puzzle. “He completes our squad as we compete for honours in five different competitions this season,” added Granovskaia.
There were several reasons for that optimism. Saul arrived having made 340 appearances for Atletico; his experience at the top level was beyond doubt. Yet he had a point to prove after a difficult 2020/21 campaign at the Wanda Metropolitano in which he had often been shunted out to left wing-back by Diego Simeone.
At 26 years old, there was ample time and opportunity for Saul to kickstart his career. “It frustrated me to not see what I could achieve on the pitch,” the Spanish international admitted in an interview with Ibai Llanos on Twitch shortly after his move to confirmed. “I was feeling stuck, and now I hope I can unblock myself.”
Two years earlier, Saul was being hailed as the answer as to who followed in the footsteps of Xavi and Andres Iniesta in Barcelona’s midfield. The La Liga giants were linked with a move for the Atletico academy graduate but were quoted £100million for his services, a fee they were unwilling to pay.
In the loan that brought Saul to Stamford Bridge, Chelsea agreed to a £30million option to make the switch permanent this summer. Had their gamble paid off and the Spaniard rediscovered his best form, it would have been a stroke of genius on the part of the club’s hierarchy. Unfortunately, that scenario didn’t play out.