Saúl Ñíguez Esclápez (Spanish pronunciation: [saˈul ˈɲiɣeθ]; born 21 November 1994), known simply as Saúl, is a Spanish professional footballer who plays for Atlético Madrid as a central or defensive midfielder.
Saúl as an Atlético Madrid player in 2018
|Full name||Saúl Ñíguez Esclápez|
|Date of birth||21 November 1994|
|Place of birth||Elche, Spain|
|Height||1.84 m (6 ft 0 in)|
|2010–2013||Atlético Madrid B||70||(8)|
|2013–2014||→ Rayo Vallecano (loan)||34||(2)|
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of 18 May 2019|
‡ National team caps and goals correct as of 26 March 2019
Having represented Spain at various youth levels, Saúl helped the under-21 team finish second in the 2017 European Championship, being top scorer in the process. He was selected by the senior side to the 2018 World Cup.
Born in Elche, Alicante, Valencian Community, Saúl moved to Real Madrid at the age of 11, before switching to cross-city rivals Atlético in 2008. He made his senior debut in 2010–11, appearing with the reserves in the third division, and his first goal came in a 3–1 away win against Extremadura UD on 10 April 2011, his only of the season in an eventual midtable finish.
On 8 March 2012, at the age of just 17 years and 108 days, Saúl made his official debut with the Colchoneros first team, playing the last six minutes in a UEFA Europa League game against Beşiktaş JK (3–1 home win, 6–1 on aggregate). His second appearance came on 20 September, again as a substitute and in the Europa League, this time against Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC; three days later he scored both goals for Atlético B, in a 2–1 away derby win over Real Madrid C.
Saúl made his La Liga debut on 21 April 2013, playing two minutes in a 1–0 success at Sevilla FC after replacing fellow youth graduate Koke. Again from the bench, he appeared in his second league match with the main squad on 4 May, against Deportivo de La Coruña (0–0).
On 21 July 2013, Saúl signed with Rayo Vallecano in a season-long loan deal. After returning, he featured in both legs of the 2014 Supercopa de España in which Atlético defeated Real Madrid, starting in the first match.
In a Madrid derby on 7 February 2015, Saúl replaced the injured Koke after ten minutes, and scored his team's second goal shortly after through a bicycle kick, in an eventual 4–0 win. From the 2015–16 campaign onwards, after the departure of Mario Suárez and the injury of Tiago Mendes, he became a nuclear midfield element for the Diego Simeone-led team.
On 27 April 2016, Saúl played 85 minutes in the first leg of the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League against FC Bayern Munich, and also scored the only goal at the Vicente Calderón Stadium after an individual effort. The following 18 April, in the same competition but in the last-eight stage, he netted through a rare header to help to a 1–1 draw at Leicester City (2–1 aggregate triumph); also in that month, in an interview given to Diario AS, he admitted to having played for "two seasons" under extremely painful circumstances.
On 1 July 2017, Saúl signed a new nine-year contract.
Saúl earned 47 caps for Spain, all youth levels comprised. He experienced individual and collective success in the under-19 team, winning the UEFA European Championship in 2012 and featuring in the Team of the Tournament.
On 26 May 2015, Saúl was called to the full side for a friendly with Costa Rica and a UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying match against Belarus, but did not make his debut on either occasion. He, Sergio Rico and Lucas Vázquez were the three uncapped players in a provisional squad for the final tournament in France, but he was eventually cut from the final squad alongside Isco.
Saúl made his full debut on 1 September 2016, playing 15 minutes in a 2–0 friendly win in Belgium. He was crowned top scorer at the 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, notably scoring a hat-trick to help see off Italy 3–1 in the semi-finals.
Back with the full side, Saúl was selected in the squad by manager Julen Lopetegui for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Following Fernando Hierro replacing the latter shortly before the tournament, he was an unused member in an eventual round-of-16 exit.
Under new coach Luis Enrique, Saúl scored his first goal for his country on 8 September 2018, equalising in an eventual 2–1 win against England for the UEFA Nations League at Wembley Stadium. He also scored against Croatia in the following fixture three days later, a 6–0 victory in his hometown of Elche for the same competition.
Style of playEdit
A midfielder by trade, Saúl was deployed as a central defender during his spell at Rayo Vallecano. Spanish football journalist Guillem Balagué stated that he suits several styles of play, citing his ability to play "Simeone style" (in reference to Atlético manager Diego Simeone) and "Barcelona style", summing up with "We have never had a midfielder like this".
Following Luis Enrique's appointment as Spain manager in 2018, Diario AS' Alfredo Relaño remarked "Saúl is the player to move the ball forward with purpose and attempt to finalise long passages of possession", adding that "The new centre of the park for Spain (where so much happens for the national side) is now defined by him, a box-to-box player and one never afraid to try his luck in front of goal", while Sid Lowe of The Guardian opined that "now he embodies the shift, technique and talent but athleticism too, blessed of impeccable timing, arriving in the area".
Saúl came from a football family: his father, José Antonio, played several years with Elche CF – including the 1984–85 season in the top division – as a striker. His brothers, Aarón and Jonathan, were also footballers.
- As of 13 April 2019
|Atlético Madrid B||2010–11||Segunda División B||22||1||—||22||1|
|Atlético Madrid||2011–12||La Liga||0||0||0||0||1||0||—||1||0|
|Rayo Vallecano (loan)||2013–14||La Liga||34||2||3||0||—||37||2|
- As of 26 March 2019
- As of 11 September 2018 (Spain score listed first, score column indicates score after each Saúl goal)
|1||8 September 2018||Wembley Stadium, London, England||11||England||1–1||2–1||2018–19 UEFA Nations League A|
|2||11 September 2018||Manuel Martínez Valero, Elche, Spain||12||Croatia||1–0||6–0|
- Copa del Rey: 2012–13
- Supercopa de España: 2014
- UEFA Europa League: 2011–12, 2017–18
- UEFA Super Cup: 2018
- UEFA Champions League: Runner-up 2015–16
- "Saúl". Atlético Madrid. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
- "Atlético B win in Extremadura". Atlético Fans. 11 April 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
- "Twenty goal spectacle in first friendly". Atlético Fans. 10 July 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
- "Saúl Ñíguez debuta con el Atlético" [Saúl Ñíguez makes Atlético debut]. Marca (in Spanish). 8 March 2012. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
- Hapoel Tel Aviv 0–3 Atletico Madrid: Diego Simeone's men begin defence of title with an easy victory over Israeli side. Goal, 20 September 2012
- Saúl firma la primera victoria de un gran Atlético de Madrid B ante el Real Madrid C (1–2) (Saúl spearheads first win of great Atlético de Madrid B against Real Madrid C (1–2)); Atlético Madrid, 23 September 2012 (in Spanish)
- "Falcao nets again". ESPN FC. 21 April 2013. Archived from the original on 20 May 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- "Draw enough for Rojiblancos". ESPN FC. 2013. Archived from the original on 8 May 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- "Saúl se marcha cedido al Rayo" [Saúl goes on loan to Rayo]. Marca (in Spanish). 21 July 2013. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
- Estepa, Javier (19 August 2014). "El Atleti lo deja todo en el aire" [Atleti leave it open]. Marca (in Spanish). Retrieved 29 August 2014.
- Campos, Tomás (23 August 2014). "Una pequeña revancha" [A small payback]. Marca (in Spanish). Retrieved 5 September 2014.
- "Atl Madrid 4–0 Real Madrid". BBC Sport. 7 February 2015. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
- "Simeone: "No necesito que Saúl se parezca a Tiago"" [Simeone: "I don't need for Saúl to look like Tiago"] (in Spanish). Cadena SER. 4 December 2015. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
- Hijón, Laura (14 March 2016). "Saúl Ñíguez, el 'delantero revelación', afinado para el PSV" [Saúl Ñíguez, the 'best new forward', tuned up for PSV] (in Spanish). Vavel. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
- "Slick Atlético inflict more Spain pain on Bayern". UEFA. 27 April 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
- "Leicester City 1–1 Atlético Madrid". BBC Sport. 18 April 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
- "Saúl Ñiguez: "I used to pee blood after every game"". Diario AS. 16 April 2017. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
- "Saul Niguez to stay with Atletico Madrid for nine more years". BBC Sport. 1 July 2017. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
- "Espanyol defender Ruben Duarte will train with Del Bosque's Spain squad in June". Sport. 26 May 2015. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
- "Euro 2016: Diego Costa, Juan Mata & Fernando Torres not in Spain squad". BBC Sport. 17 May 2016. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
- "Isco y Saúl fuera de la lista de Del Bosque para la Eurocopa 2016" [Isco and Saúl out of Del Bosque's list for 2016 European Championship]. El País (in Spanish). 31 May 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
- "Belgium 0–2 Spain: match report, as it happened". Diario AS. 1 September 2016. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
- "Spain U21 3–1 Italy U21". BBC Sport. 27 June 2017. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
- "Morata misses out on Spain's 23-man World Cup squad". Goal. 21 May 2018. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
- "Saul Niguez and Luis Enrique's impact on Spain's new era". BBC Sport. 13 September 2018. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
- Taylor, Daniel (8 September 2018). "Rodrigo consigns England to defeat by Spain in first post-World Cup match". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
- Relaño, Alfredo (10 September 2018). "Saúl, the player to take the Spanish national team forward". Diario AS. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
- Lowe, Sid (12 September 2018). "'This is Spain': Luis Enrique's stunning start unites press and fans". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
- "Los Ñiguez, familia de futbolistas" [The Ñiguezes, footballing family] (in Spanish). Colgados por el Fútbol. 8 December 2013. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
- "Saúl, Aarón y Jony, los hermanos Ñíguez marcan un 'triplete' histórico" [Saúl, Aarón and Jony, the Ñíguez brothers score historic 'triple']. La Información (in Spanish). 18 December 2016. Retrieved 19 May 2017.
- "Los hermanos Ñíguez, unidos y luchando contra la esclerosis" [The Ñíguez brothers, united and fighting against sclerosis]. Diario AS (in Spanish). 21 December 2016. Retrieved 19 May 2017.
- "Saúl". Soccerway. Retrieved 2 September 2014.
- "Saúl". European Football. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
- "Saúl – Trophies". Soccerway. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
- Hafez, Shamoon (16 May 2018). "Marseille 0–0 Atlético Madrid". BBC Sport. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
- Sanders, Emma (15 August 2018). "Real Madrid 2–4 Atlético Madrid". BBC Sport. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
- "Technical report" (PDF). UEFA. p. 13. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
- "Saúl Ñíguez wins U21 EURO adidas Golden Boot". UEFA. 30 June 2017. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
- "Official Under-21 Team of the Tournament". UEFA. 1 July 2017. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
- "UEFA Europa League Squad of the 2017/18 Season". UEFA. 17 May 2018. Retrieved 18 May 2018.