Atletico Madrid are keeping tabs on Sporting Lisbon star Joao Mario and are ready to make a bid if his proposed move to Manchester United falls through.
The 23-year-old central midfielder has been outstanding in Portugal, scoring seven goals and providing 12 assists in 41 matches for Sporting.
Mario is an intelligent, hard-working player that would fit perfectly in Atletico boss Diego Simeone's system. However, Simeone, who has guided his team to the Champions League final, where they will face city rivals Real, will not find it easy to secure his signature.
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United are expected to meet the release clause required by Sporting and splash £45 million on Mario, but Spanish publication Marca reports that Atletico are waiting patiently in the wings should the deal fall through.
With his contract running until 2020, Mario will be in no rush to accept the first offer that comes to him.
Only time will tell if he considers Atletico’s brand of direct, counter-attacking football to be attractive enough to lure him to Madrid, though it has to be said that under Louis van Gaal, United's style of play has not always been free-flowing.
Atletico’s early foray into the transfer market is typical of the Spanish club, who have shown a propensity to complete key deals early in the summer.
Simeone has been looking for a new central midfielder following rumours that young prodigy Saul Niguez could be on his way out of the club.
That shouldn't deter Atletico too much, as they have become accustomed to losing their star players almost every season, only to replace them with lesser-known players of equal value.
Given Manchester United’s growing reputation as a club who are unable to finish off transfers - as just one example, Renato Sanches seemed certain to join until he was announced as a Bayern player earlier this month - Mario could be the next young starlet to be “unearthed” by Simeone.
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