SOCCER TRANSFERS

Atlético reinforces ranks with pedigree players

Emre Belözoglu and Cristian Rodríguez arrive on free transfers

Turkey's Arda Turan (l) celebrates with his teammate Emre Belozoglu after scoring a goal against Romania in 2010.
Turkey's Arda Turan (l) celebrates with his teammate Emre Belozoglu after scoring a goal against Romania in 2010. REUTERS

Atlético Madrid coach Diego Simeone has been active in the transfer market just a few days after the official close of the 2011-12 season. The Argentinean has gone for experience in his early summer forays, signing seasoned internationals Cristian Rodríguez and Emre Belözoglu, both on free transfers from Porto and Fenerbahçe respectively.

The two players have almost 150 international caps between them and have played consistently at the highest level throughout their careers. The Turkish Emre, 31, has represented Galatasaray, Inter and Newcastle United while Uruguayan Rodríguez, 26, has played for Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica. Like their new coach, both players have a reputation for on-field belligerence.

Rodríguez, who earned the nickname “The Onion” at Peñarol for his ability to make defenders weep, was omitted from the Uruguay squad at the 2010 World Cup after punching Argentina’s Gabriel Heinze.

Emre, who also received a ban following a punch-up after a World Cup qualifying match against Switzerland in 2006, has been involved in a series of racist-slur incidents and only last month was accused of racially abusing Trabzonspor midfielder Didier Zokora during a heated Turkish league match.

Both players have missed World Cup matches after throwing punches at opponents

However, Simeone will hope that his new players make headlines with their undoubted talent as Atlético pushes for Champions League qualification next year. Emre plays in midfield and possesses a thunderbolt left foot and a keen eye for a pass, which will be required if Atlético fails to persuade Wolfsburg to loan out Diego Ribas for another season. Rodríguez is an explosive left winger who can also play in attack or midfield, a versatility shared in Simeone’s side with Juanfran and Adrián, a useful commodity when the wage bill is examined.

“He has everything needed to succeed here,” said Emre’s Turkey international teammate Arda Turan. “He has shown the personality to play for big clubs and his experience can help us a lot in key matches.”

Also on the agenda for Simeone during the off-season will be Thibaut Courtois: the Chelsea goalkeeper loaned to Atlético last season racked up statistics second only to Iker Casillas and Víctor Valdés and was a key component of the side’s Europa League-winning season. The other important task facing Simeone is fending off what are certain to be persistent attempts to lure Radamel Falcao from the Vicente Calderón.

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