First and foremost: Antoine Griezmann loves basketball.
You know this if you follow his Instagram page, and probably even if you don’t. Griezmann is an NBA fanatic and has hung around several of the league’s biggest names the past couple years — a time frame corresponding with his own rise to stardom. So it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Griezmann elected to end his latest transfer rigmarole with a nod to LeBron James and his infamous Decision.
Long story short: on July 8, 2010, during a 75-minute television program, James announced he would leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to form a “super team” in Miami with close friends Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. James, 25 at the time, won two championships in four years with the Heat. But he was roundly criticized for “The Decision” — both the ESPN program and the choice itself — and it took him several years to rehabilitate his reputation.
Griezmann, too, may have some explaining to do in light of “La Decisión,” the 33-minute documentary that aired Thursday night on Movistar+. But many Atlético Madrid fans (not all, let’s be clear) will be more eager to look the other way after the Frenchman revealed his intent to spurn Barcelona and stay in the capital.
I only grew confident Griezmann would stay within the past 72 hours. That speaks to how contradictory the reporting was throughout this unique saga and how close to the vest Griezmann kept his cards, following last summer’s very public flirtation with Manchester United. The 27-year-old gave Atlético a chance to convince him this time around after the transfer ban effectively made his choice for him in 2017.
Like its seven-year-old American cousin, “La Decisión” was bombastic, overwrought, self-aggrandizing and much too long for its own good. However, it was also starkly enlightening — here was Griezmann, an international superstar at the height of his game, weighing up a career-altering decision while getting inked in his humongous home and riding his horse. There were moments where he cut a pensive, isolated figure despite his family’s support. The question was posed to him many times: “Do you want to be one more in Barcelona, or do you want the chance to become an Atlético legend?”
“Will he or won’t he?”
We have devoted so many column inches to Griezmann and the constant “will he or won’t we” in the past year that it felt at times as if we were forgetting about the rest of his teammates. The mania became exhausting for fans and journalists alike, albeit for different reasons. (How many of Sport’s reporters will have their credibility tarnished forevermore because their source was Barça’s incompetent board?)
Cheering for Griezmann week in and week out requires a little cognitive dissonance. This is a guy who has welcomed overtures from other clubs — one being Atlético’s direct rivals — and has allowed said overtures to distract him on more than one occasion. He’s also a bit racist. But when he’s not stumbling over himself in the figurative sense, Griezmann is a world-class forward. He scored or assisted 42 goals over 49 games in 2017/18 and prospered next to absolute unit Diego Costa. You always want to support and hold onto great players — Griezmann is a great player, and his aforementioned issues don’t change that.
Josep Maria Bartomeu and his Barcelona buddies recognized this, too. For nearly a year they tracked Griezmann, hounded his entourage, told his agent/sister Maud they wanted to end their Champions League “drought” with him. Barça players from Lionel Messi to Luis Suárez to Jordi Alba spoke at length about him as if his arrival was close to certain. Bartomeu even went so far as to say he thought of Griezmann as part of the team from July 1.
He couldn’t even get to June 15.
Griezmann clearly didn’t see himself as part of that family. He had reservations about being “one more,” eternally in Messi’s shadow. Atlético fans whistled him during the season finale against Eibar — imagine the abuse he would have received had he returned to the Wanda Metropolitano wearing blue and garnet, making “only” €15 million per year when Atlético offered him around €23 million.
In a way, it is gratifying that the blaugrana did not get the object of their desire in this instance. They went unrewarded for their sloppy, heavy-handed approach to transfers.
That’s another exceptional wrinkle in the France international’s decision: Atlético (read: Diegos Godín and Simeone) successfully convinced their star talent to turn down Barça’s advances and stay on. A decade ago, that was impossible. Just six years ago, Atleti signed five players for a total of €4.5 million, and now they have the ability to poach Griezmann’s international teammate Thomas Lemar from AS Monaco for a club-record fee — a move Grizi lobbied for and reportedly helped make happen.
The club now has to address Jan Oblak’s renewal and sign insurance at full back (French media believes a deal for Monaco’s Djibril Sidibé is close). With Costiezmann playing in front of a revamped midfield and that defense, los colchoneros are poised to challenge for LaLiga and the Champions League in 2018/19.
Atleti are serious. The road will not be easy — but it never is with this team. Diego Simeone is set to have a loaded squad — and Griezmann, his leading light, the man on whom he worked his persuasive magic when the whistles visibly affected him, will be back to hand out some L’s (or whatever celebration he comes up with next).
After all, he’s home. He said so himself.