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Barcelona pay €15m for first refusal on Atletico Madrid stars

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Barcelona have paid Atletico Madrid €15 million to have the first refusal on Saul Niguez, Jose Gimenez and three other academy players, with sources from both clubs denying the payment has anything to do with the Antoine Griezmann deal.

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Barca signed Griezmann from Atletico for his €120m release clause in July. The clause had just dropped from €200m and the Rojiblanco continue to fight for the full amount, alleging that the Catalan club approached the France forward long before the clause had reduced.

The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) fined Barca €300 last month over irregularities regarding the transfer. Both Barca and Atletico appealed the ruling.

Spanish newspaper El Mundo claimed on Monday that Barca and Atletico have now agreed a €15m fee to settle the case. The report added that, as part of the agreement, Atletico had given the Blaugrana a preferential option on a number of their players.

A high-ranking source at Barcelona "strongly denies" that the payment has anything to do with Griezmann but confirmed that the club had acquired an option to skip to the front of the queue to sign Saul, Gimenez and several other Atletico players. The source added that Barca regularly do these types of deals.

An Atletico source also confirmed the club has reached an agreement whereby Barca are entitled to first refusal over some of their players. The source would not name the players included in the deal or the figure which Barca paid.

ESPN FC have learned that the deal was done in September and means that whenever Atletico receive an offer for the players included in the agreement, they must let Barca know immediately. The Spanish champions will then have the right to match the proposal.

It's not the first time that Barca have had a first refusal option on Spain midfielder Saul. When David Villa moved to Atletico in 2013, they were granted first refusal on Saul, Koke and Javier Manquillo as part of the deal. That option has since expired.

Saul, 24, has a contract at the Wanda Metropolitano until 2026 and a release clause of €150m.

Uruguayan centre-back Gimenez, also 24, has a deal until 2023 and a €120m buyout clause.

Sam Marsden and Adriana Garcia contributed to this report.