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The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Rob Hughes

There are sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the way that Le­ices­ter City have stormed through the Premier L e a g ue a nd how At lét ic o Madrid have won their last two games in the Cham­pi­ons League, against Barcelona and Bay­ern Mu­nich.

Both Le­ices­ter and Atlético are up­starts. They have less to spend than the mighty clubs in their leagues but ex­cel when it comes to hard work, de­tailed plan­ning and ab­so­lute sol­i­dar­ity in their ranks.

Riyad Mahrez has pro­vided mag­i­cal mo­ments from the right wing of Le­ices­ter, and so too did Saúl Ñíguez on Wed­nes­day when he scored a goal for Atlético that pos­si­bly tran­scended any other in the Cham­pi­ons League this sea­son.

Mahrez cost Le­ices­ter less than half a mil­lion dol­lars be­cause no­body else saw his po­ten­tial when he was play­ing in the lower di­vi­sions of French foot­ball. Saúl, a 21-year-old from Elche in eastern Spain, has been de­vel­oped by Atlético ever since he was al­lowed to drop out of Real Madrid’s acad­emy when he was 12. His po­ten­tial has never been a se­cret. Scouts from Arse­nal, Chelsea and Manch­ester United made reg­u­lar treks to Madrid to check on Saúl as he pro­gressed through ev­ery rank of the Span­ish na­tional youth teams.

He must be very close to his first cap with the se­nior team. As the tele­vi­sion cam­eras swept over the 52,000 in the stands on Wed­nes­day at the Vicente Calderón Sta­dium, they fo­cussed on the smile of one per­son — Vicente del Bosque, the coach of the Span­ish na­tional team.

The fans had wit­nessed a very spe­cial goal. Ad­vanc­ing from the right of mid­field but us­ing pre­dom­i­nantly his left foot, Saúl wove be­tween five Bay­ern op­po­nents as if they were f lag­poles on a slalom course. The tack­les of Thi­ago Al­cân­tara, Xabi Alonso and Juan Ber­nat (all Spa­niards play­ing for a Ger­man club) were fee­ble. Hes­i­tancy by Ar­turo Vi­dal and David Alaba meant they made no chal­lenge on Saúl what­so­ever. They were beaten by the per­sis­tence, bal­ance and sin­gle-mind­ed­ness of a young Spa­niard who dashed 45 yards with the ball. Fi­nally came the shot, curled low and pre­cise be­yond the reach of the world’s lead­ing goal­keeper, Manuel Neuer, and into the net off the base of the far post.

Like Mahrez, Saúl is closer to 6 feet tall and com­bines speed and bal­ance and move­ment. Both were over­looked in their youth, and both are play­ers who are al­lowed mo­ments of in­spi­ra­tion in a highly reg­i­mented team.

Bask­ing in the af­ter­glow of a vic­tory over Bay­ern, Atlético’s hard-driv­ing Ar­gen­tine coach, Diego Sime­one, told re­porters, “Saúl still has a lot to im­prove on, of course. “Peo­ple now want to pin medals on him,

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