With everything that he has already achieved in his career, it is easy to forget that Lucas Hernandez is only a 22-year-old. Perhaps it is because of his physical frame or the fact he is a year older than brother Theo, or maybe it is because he is already an elite defender.
Just ahead of La Liga’s final round of matches before the winter break, Marca broke the news that the French defender had agreed a four-year contract with Bayern Munich. The German champions, the report claimed, had already met his €80m release clause. It is news that threatens to derail Diego Simeone’s project at Los Rojiblancos.
Quite simply, Lucas is a cornerstone of the Atleti team. This is a player who has featured in the finals of both the Champions League and the Europa League for his club and, most significantly of all, in the showpiece of this year’s World Cup tournament. For his national team he excelled in the left-back role but his club have earmarked him for a long-term role in the centre of defence alongside Jose Maria Gimenez, when Diego Godin is phased out of the side.
Lucas only signed a new contract with Los Colchoneros in June but has seemingly been swayed by the project on offer in Bavaria. “There are a lot of clubs in Europe that make me dream, but I will not tell you who and I’m fine good in Madrid,” Lucas told Le Figaro earlier this week. “But if I have to leave tomorrow because a project interests me, I would consider it. Bayern contact me a lot and every time I have to think about the pros and cons one to make the best possible decision for me, my family and my career.”
Lucas broke through for Atleti during the 2015-16 campaign and has gone on to make 105 appearances under Diego Simeone, winning the Europa League and European Super Cup, alongside helping the side to a second-placed finish last season.
The reality for Spanish clubs is that release clauses can be met if others are forceful enough in their pursuit, as Barcelona found to their cost when Neymar joined Paris Saint-Germain in a world record €222m deal. At €80m, the release clause of Lucas is affordable for any elite European club, although Bayern tend not to enter into such financially heavy deals.
All Atleti can do now is convince the player their environment is right for him and that they too are now at the level of Bayern and other superpowers. Yet they are at the limit of their wage budget and cannot strengthen before first selling. Their first-team squad is not deep in numbers and they have had to contend with injuries this campaign, including to Lucas himself.
Just as with fellow France international Antoine Griezmann six months ago, the future of Lucas appears to be a pivotal moment for Atletico as a club and Simeone as a manager. Can they hold onto the defender or, at least, hold off a sale until summer? Atleti are aiming to win La Liga and the Champions League this season but if a star player departs at the midway juncture, those dreams may meet a premature end.
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