If you’ve read my writing or listened to Colchonero Chat within the past year, you know I’ve been somewhat critical of Antoine Griezmann on and off the pitch. Atlético Madrid’s talisman, it must be admitted, hasn’t always given it his best effort (most obviously in the first half of this season). And although he’s learned to curtail it, his penchant for flirting with other clubs through the media has been irritating to fans and a diversion for his team.
For most of his time at Atlético, Griezmann’s brilliance — enthralling as it is — has been temporary, a factor that has stopped him from reaching the heights of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Frenchman is by no means an inconsistent player, but his best moments have often been sandwiched between barren periods and usually do not reveal themselves in Atlético’s biggest games.
That said, Atlético have started applying major pressure on Griezmann to stay — apparently prioritizing his renewal over Jan Oblak’s — and he should seriously consider the possibility of extending his contract to remain at A Stadium Called Wanda for another season.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean Griezmann will actually sit down and consider a renewal proposal from Atlético (even if it makes him one of Spain’s richest players) that may double his now-infamous €100 million release clause. Barcelona are a tough club to turn down and the Catalans are far and away the 27-year-old’s most likely destination should he leave Madrid. However, that’s a reason why Griezmann should really think before exchanging red and white for blue and garnet: Barcelona are the only club truly in contention for his services.
Manchester United decided they were done waiting in January and effectively signed Alexis Sánchez to play the Griezmann role. Griezmann has never expressed interest in moving to Ligue 1 to play for Paris Saint-Germain. Bayern Munich won’t spend €100m on anybody. And it’s not as if Barcelona and Griezmann fit each other like a hand and a glove. It’s far from obvious where he would play in a team that already has (deep breath): Messi, Luis Suárez, Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé among others. Barça spent upward of €220m to sign Coutinho and Dembélé, and it seems unconscionable on its face that Ernesto Valverde would drop one of them — or perhaps remove a versatile, influential midfielder like Ivan Rakitić — to accommodate Griezmann, whose best position is in a free, Messi-like shadowing role behind a hulking center forward anyway.
Besides, who truly wants to see another squad of Monstars in Catalonia?
The Frenchman’s place at Atlético is much clearer, particularly since Diego Costa’s return in January. Since Jan. 3, the former has tallied 16 goals and six assists in 18 games across LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Europa League. This purple patch represents what is probably the very best form of Griezmann’s career — something club chiefs have noticed. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by Costa, either.
“He knows he’s an important player for Atlético,” Costa said last week. “He’s still with us and we hope it remains [that way]. For me, it would be best if he stayed.
“I think he’s going to stay. He used to call me and ask me if I was coming to Atlético. He won’t leave me by myself now.”
Fellow Spain international Koke didn’t exactly echo those thoughts, but reaffirmed that being at Atleti required total commitment, something Griezmann has increasingly displayed in recent weeks.
“I always say about any player, whether Antoine or myself, if we do not want to be here we have to leave,” Koke said.
”We need to play where we want to be, but if you are here you must be committed.”
But most importantly, Griezmann himself cracked open the proverbial door to staying in an interview with L’Equipe last week, while AS reported that Barça won’t move for the forward unless he wants out.
“I don’t think [it’s the end of a cycle],” Griezmann said. “I’m happy at Atlético. I want to win a title and learn from Simeone.”
Atlético know Griezmann is without a doubt their most marketable player and possibly their most important player (although I’d argue it’s Oblak), hence this new push to keep him. And perhaps this partnership with Costa will open his eyes — if it hasn’t already — to the possibility that with a summer of moderate investment, this team could achieve something special next season following a potential second place finish and Europa League triumph this season. If Griezmann wants the chance to win titles as the key figure at a big club, Atlético is really his only option at this time.
In addition, let us not forget that leaving Simeone’s Atlético doesn’t equal guaranteed success. Costa was terrific at Chelsea, sure, but Filipe Luís returned after one season (and one league title, to be fair). Radamel Falcao endured a torn ACL and two nightmare seasons in the Premier League before finding his feet at Monaco last year. Arda Turan, of course, is the most pertinent cautionary tale, as he left the capital to join Barcelona in 2015 and was never the same despite winning four trophies in two seasons. Barça have since banished him to İstanbul Başakşehir in the form of a two-year loan.
(And he’s still threatening journalists, by the way.)
There’s no guarantee Griezmann will find happiness or annual trebles should he move to Catalonia. Only he can decide whether he wants to sacrifice the comfort and security he’s found over the past eight weeks to chase titles with a new, star-studded cast of characters. Remaining at Atlético might just give Griezmann what he’s always craved: challenging for titles every year as the team’s star and getting a legitimate shot at reaching the Messi-Cristiano summit.