FootballLa Liga

Renan Lodi is Diego Simeone’s secret weapon in his bid to transform Atletico Madrid

October 29, 2019

AFTER coming through quite a lot in his first few months in Spain, Atletico Madrid’s new left-back Renan Lodi already looks the bargain of last summer’s Spanish transfer market.

Lodi was pretty much unknown before joining Atletico from Athletico Paranaense or around €20 million, and not that much was expected from rojiblanco fans and pundits with more fanfare around higher profile arrivals Joao Felix and Kieran Trippier.

Diego Simeone started the youngster in a new look defence through most of pre-season, but his La Liga debut brought an unfortunate but avoidable sending off for two yellow cards in sixty seconds against Getafe. The kid himself more recently revealed that the first weeks in the new continent had been very difficult, and he got upset when Atletico declined to let him join up with Brazil’s Under-23 squad in September.

“That moment was pretty difficult,” he told Globoesporte. “I said to my girlfriend Rafaela, that’s it, we’re going back to Brazil, I can’t take it any more. Let’s go home.”

There followed a heart to heart with Simeone, who kept faith in the youngster despite having more experienced options in Spain internationals Mario Hermoso and [Swiss Army] Saul Niguez to fill in at left-back. Assistant coaches German Burgos and Nelson Vivas also worked hard each day at training on the kid, who proved a very quick learner.

Lodi’s second La Liga start brought a man of the match performance as Atletico came back from 0-2 down to beat Eibar 3-2, and a description as a “knife through the opposition defence”.

Nobody has been surprised that a young Brazilian defender might be keen to get forward down the flank. However what marks Lodi out is his excellent technique, as well as vision and passing not usually associated with a defender. Similar to fellow countrymen Marcelo and Daniel Alves he appears to be almost too good a footballer to be a full-back. “He changes the three on his shirt for a 10 when he goes into the opposition half,” wrote former Atletico striker turned AS pundit Kiko Narvaez admiringly.

That has made Lodi a key tactical part of Simeone’s new tactical plans, with he and Trippier probably the team’s most important playmakers through 2019/20's opening months. Against Juventus at the Wanda in early September's Champions League opener, they were the two players with most touches of the ball as wide midfielders Koke and Thomas Lemar moved inside and Atletico dominated the first half.

But they were both then caught out defensively when Juve coach Maurizio Sarri switched shape to quickly go 2-0 up, and Lodi was substituted as Simeone went back to basics to spark a late comeback to 2-2.

“Many people say ‘Renan is good in attack, but not so much defending’,” he admitted himself to El Pais recently. “I think I’m a balanced full-back, and the boss has talked a lot to me to bring on the defensive part. I also believe I have to evolve as a player, and two months is not very long, it will take time.”

Not that long, as Lodi has fitted in seamlessly as Atletico have conceded just one goal – a super Dani Parejo free kick – in the eight games played since that Juve game. With Joao Felix injured, and Atletico's key playmaker Koke struggling for form, he also provided a peach of an assist for Alvaro Morata’s header in the 1-0 UCL win over Bayer Leverkusen last week.

There are players who you need to let settle into the team,” Simeone told El Larguero. “We always gave Lodi the option to play. Because he and Joao Felix are close to what the team needs. [Although] if people think that at 21 he will play like Felipe Luis at 27 then they are mistaken.”

The last few weeks have seen him named both Atletico's player of the month for September and win his first two senior caps for Brazil – although he didn’t get a visit home as the friendlies against Senegal and Nigeria were played in Singapore.

Lodi says he is comfortable now in Spain, and doesn’t even get [too] rattled when El Cholo has something to say. “At the start, Simeone scared me a bit, but that’s his character,” he told El Pais. “I can now be more relaxed when he starts shouting.”

Many at the Wanda are already confident they have a key piece of Simeone’s next trophy-winning side. “I think he'll be the best full-back in Atletico's history,” says his predecessor for club and country Filipe Luis. “He has everything he needs.” It would also be no surprise if richer clubs in the Premier League start looking at a player whose style of play would be ideal for [say] Liverpool, Tottenham or Manchester City.

Just six months ago only those who followed Brazilian football closely were aware of Lodi's potential. A lot has happened since, and it looks like the best is yet to come.