Atlético Madrid spent roughly €30 million on a diminutive Frenchman from Real Sociedad in 2014. He was a highly-touted prospect, and the ideal replacement for the U.S.-bound David Villa. Since that time, this young striker’s international profile rose significantly, which in turn created a change in his attitude toward Atlético, the team that made him a star. His best season in red and white came in 2015/16, which also happens to be the season he missed a penalty in the Champions League final. Since that singular moment, Atlético fans have been inundated with transfer rumors about the future of their #7, who was constantly linked to the continent’s biggest clubs. This is fairly standard procedure for a great player, but Antoine Griezmann never challenged these rumors and committed to Atlético only when it suited him.
It seemed all but certain that Antoine would leave last summer with Barcelona rumors rampant. Instead of making a quick statement that he was to remain in Madrid, he waited half the summer before he released a corny documentary which ultimately concluded that he would stay. Now, less than 12 months later, Griezmann essentially has handed in a transfer request. Forever in hindsight, Griezmann’s tears at Diego Godín’s farewell sum up his Atleti career pretty well — he put on a big show in order to get the fans’ love, but failed to love the club as an institution and often disappeared when it mattered most.
Last year, amid the persistent Barcelona whispers, Griezmann was whistled at the Wanda Metropolitano in a 2-2 draw against Eibar. This only stopped once Godín went over to the fans to tell them Griezmann would stay. Griezmann could not handle being booed by those who were incensed that he would possibly join the club’s main title rival. In a vacuum, this represented exactly what Griezmann is all about — nothing is his fault, so how could the fans blame him? How could the world be outraged when he came out in full-body makeup to portray himself as a black basketball player?
Griezmann never took responsibility for his actions and words during his Atlético career and for over three years played with the team’s fans about his future. Each summer brought a new rumor about Griezmann’s departure. His looming transfer in itself will not be a killer blow to the club, but the drawn-out rumors and sagas he created only fostered resentment among Atleti supporters. Even on a weekly basis in 2019, fans had to watch as he pouted around the pitch, not applying himself and rarely displaying aggression as the team he occasionally captained saw its season fall apart.
There is no doubting Griezmann’s quality. He arrived a small winger and subsequently was crafted into a number nine/10 hybrid that carried Atlético’s attack the past five seasons. He never finished a season with fewer than 20 goals in all competitions. But Griezmann achieved only one real title — the Europa League last year, to which he certainly contributed immensely. However, Griezmann will be remembered far more for his failings as a player for Atleti than as a club legend.
In the end, Griezmann’s departure is very on-brand — he went and announced it with a video shot on a phone in front of a blank wall, where he sheepishly explained that he took the decision to leave, but not before he namedropped Diego Simeone and Gil Marín to make sure the fans do not really unload on him this weekend.
Frankly, Griezmann never was an Atlético player. In fact, he was the opposite. Simeone demands only application from his players and total conformance to his system, regardless of someone’s talent level. Despite his obvious quality, Griezmann bought into Diego Simeone’s tactics for three months out of the year each season. Since I began to write about this team in 2016, there was a Griezmann slump story — a story about how he was in a lengthy spell of poor form.
It’s hard to feel any real emotion about Griezmann’s exit other than joy that the saga is over and even more annoyance at the man’s antics. Almost certainly, Griezmann will do well at Barcelona, which will only make us dislike him more. Sadly, this is the case throughout contemporary football, and players like Godín and Gabi do not come around often. It is all the more important that we treasure these figures while we have them.
Goodbye Antoine. Thanks for the goals, I guess.