I’ll start this with a quote from the imitable Ben Harper. In his song “Walk Away“, he says, “It’s so hard to do but so easy to say/but sometimes, sometimes, you just have to walk away.” While Harper was singing about a relationship gone stale, Antoine Griezmann is learning that the gesture of staying at Atlético Madrid was only half the work and walking away might have been a better option.
During the summer, the “70 percent“ chance of him leaving Atlético turned out to be a spurious estimate, as the club were dealt a blow when their transfer ban was upheld and all of their summer plans went up in smoke. Griezmann followed that up by saying it would be a “dirty move” to leave the club that bet on him and turned him into a world class striker.
Since then, however, he has been accused of mailing it in and he hasn’t hit the net in league play since September and has only scored twice total in the competition. His red card against Girona in the very first game was also an unsettling look at the frustration that has seeped into the Frenchman’s game. He has been booked or sent off in more games than he has scored in so far this season. His tackle on Lionel Messi at the end of the 1-1 draw with Barcelona was another sign of a generally clean tackler gone rogue; it nearly cost Atlético a valuable point.
The club have requested that he step up his performances and Diego Simeone took a dig at his supposed talisman by saying he had nobody in the team that can be a match-winner. That isn’t necessarily true, however, as Thomas Partey has eased into that role with his prolific goalscoring in recent weeks — and long may it last.
Griezmann endeared himself to the fans with his sign of loyalty in an era seemingly devoid of it. He promised the club that he would tough it out with them for another year and help them usher in a new period at the club replete with a new stadium, new hopes and fresh ambitions. Simeone did the same at the start of the season as centre was indeed set to hold itself together; the creative artist and his muse were staying put.
The worst version of Griezmann since he has arrived at Atletico. Corrra confused, Oblak doesn’t budge. pic.twitter.com/bSdK11n3Fy— Robbie Dunne (@robbiejdunne) November 6, 2017
But in actuality, tepid performances that show no signs of abating have followed — in addition to what seemed a troubling sign of belligerence at the weekend. Griezmann jumped out of the team photo before it was taken, leaving Angel Correa looking at the blank space vacated by Griezmann the same way as many fans are looking at the Frenchman this season: with a look of disbelief and confusion.
There is a two-part silver lining here. The first is that this was inevitable and Griezmann hasn’t turned into a bad footballer overnight. The second part comes in the shape of a big angry striker named Diego Costa looking to force his way into Julen Lopetegui’s Spanish squad for the World Cup and help Atlético out of their slump. He will undoubtedly help out Griezmann in taking off the pressure and creating space in the penalty area. Griezmann just needs to sit through the storm that comes with not upgrading a poor attacking team, a storm that he surely knew was coming.
Grizi’s gesture was a wonderful, novel, altruistic and endearing act, but following through at a time when all seems lost is proving to be the hard part.