At 24, Thomas Partey is not a youngster, but this season feels very much like a breakthrough one. It’s no coincidence, too, that it has arrived in something of a transitional campaign for Atletico Madrid.
Diego Simeone, known since his arrival at the club for largely persisting with a reliable, immutable starting lineup, has embraced rotation. There also appears to have been a realisation that some of the dependable old guard are no longer in their prime.
Gabi, 34, is one of those. He has seen his place taken on numerous occasions this season by Partey, energetic and innocently enthusiastic, a fresh face amidst the worn, tired long-serving members of Simeone’s consistently industrious outfit.
The Ghanaian midfielder has had to be patient, but he has grasped his opportunity with both hands. His performances in midfield have caught the eye, to the extent that he could now be considered a key part of the club’s plans going forward.
For a long time it didn’t seem likely Partey would reach this stage. What did seem likely was that he would have to look elsewhere for first team football, and so that’s what he did.
Two loan spells at Mallorca and Almeria helped him develop, gain some experience of Spanish top flight football. At both he impressed, though there was room for refinement.
That refinement has taken place since his return to Atletico. He remained on the periphery until the beginning of this season, but Simeone now appears confident to place his usually well-informed trust in the player.
Partey would have been understandably cautious over his future at the club prior to his regular inclusion in the team. Loanees do not have a good record of forcing a way into Simeone’s plans at Atletico.
But Partey has done just that. The assured, decisive nature of his performances have given the Argentine coach little choice but to continue with him in midfield.
He has demonstrated an increasingly impressive discipline, a trait essential for any player hoping to play in Los Colchoneros’ midfield two. Then there’s his composure on the ball, his ability to pick the right pass accurately, to keep things running smoothly.
He has athleticism and power, yes, but there is far more to Partey’s game than just physicality. And Simeone has clearly noticed.
After his superb display in a 0-0 La Liga draw with Valencia last month, the demonstrative coach praised Partey’s development. “[Thomas] is improving, he is full of motivation and ambition,” Simeone said. “I hope he keeps improving, he is young and works hard.”
So far, he has not disappointed. Atletico have not been particularly free-flowing; at times they have been uninspiring this season and there have been some faltering performances. But one of the major positives has been the evident potential of Partey.
The club were in an unenviable position over the summer, unable to sign players to strengthen in areas that may have needed some shoring up. Calling on Gabi to play nearly every minute – as he has in recent seasons – appears to no longer be a viable option.
And so the emergence of Partey, and his continued form, will be of great importance to Atletico as the season progresse