The logic behind Atlético Madrid’s announcement that Antoine Griezmann didn’t want to continue at the club is a head-scratcher.
In a world where secrecy is king and where rejections, denials and any club statement needs to be taken with enough salt to raise blood pressure to dangerous levels, Atlético’s declaration that Griezmann wanted out has left plenty of questions to be answered. But given the thought and precision put into decisions of this nature, there has to be some reason behind it.
There’s no coming back from it now, and you’d think the situation — a man not wanted at his current club, but who hasn’t agreed terms with his future club — drives down his price. If people know I’m desperate to sell my car because I have no room for it in my garage, I won’t be short of lowball offers. Atlético fans won’t have him back, and he couldn’t realistically pull on a red and white jersey again even if they would.
What we know is Diego Godín’s departure hit Griezmann hard and it was a huge factor behind the decision to leave. There was petulance in wearing the number 2 jersey with his friend’s name on the back as Griezmann arrived for the Uruguayan’s final home game against Sevilla. Godín’s comments that he wanted to stay made it clear that this wasn’t the cleanest split, even if the goodbye was genuine, the outpouring of love at his farewell press conference real.
Griezmann needed to be talked out of making another documentary according to reports in Spain and maybe this was where player and club found common ground, with the attacker explaining that he wanted to go and saying “gracias” through a simple, club-curated Twitter video.
“More team, less stars” is how Diario AS put it on Monday. Translation: Atlético are moving back toward the Simeone ideal. And if Barcelona really do want Griezmann — who is a more natural fit in that roving wide position than Philippe Coutinho — maybe the Rojiblancos figure they can get a couple players in return for the Frenchman if they force their hand.
Barcelona need to cut costs. Their wage bill is so bloated that it has become unsustainable. They need to make changes after the depressing end to their Champions League campaign, too, which was followed with a no-less-meagre defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final. Frenkie de Jong will arrive, but Ivan Rakitić is seemingly out of gas, plus Malcom and others could leave. The Catalans need to start looking to reinvest in their aging, limited squad.
No less than Atlético, who need an entirely-new back line and a rethink of how they set up in attack. Felipe Monteiro’s signing from FC Porto on Tuesday is a start and more are reinforcements on their way from Portugal, but Simeone needs more — and better full-backs.
Nélson Semedo was linked to the club on Monday. He was, arguably, at fault for both goals in the Copa del Rey final and might be expendable once Barça directors get out the big red Sharpie to start marking out names. Coutinho would be a good signing too if both sides were left with players they didn’t want and couldn’t sell. The issues with him at Camp Nou have nothing to do with attitude or professionalism — it’s a matter of him being low on confidence, with no ability to swing the momentum back in his direction.
Griezmann is available and a near-perfect fit for what Barcelona need. If they can’t seal the deal now, how will that make Barcelona look? “Very bad” is the answer. And if they can’t sign him, they will have to sign someone. The last time Barça rushed out to buy someone to soothe fans’ concerns, they overpaid twice — for Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé. That will help Atlético in their forever pursuit of Lionel Messi and co. at LaLiga’s summit.
Cersei Lannister walked through the slums of King’s Landing as punishment for her wrongdoing. Cholo Simeone said that he would fight to the death for those in his family. But what happens once you decide you want out? He never explained that much to us.
So when Griezmann made his choice this time, Atlético wanted to take back control.
Griezmann’s infamous “Decisión” documentary last summer left the club spectacularly open to the elements. It was clear midway through that he wouldn’t and couldn’t be so cruel as to announce he would leave after everything Atlético had done for him. The hierarchy most likely didn’t want a repeat of that, with them coming out on the wrong side of the decision. It stung Barcelona at the time, as you’d expect, and Atlético are too proud to allow that if they could help it.
If this latest drama does drive down Griezmann’s price below his €125 million release clause, will it all have been worth it? Given the clear-out, and the near world-record fee Atlético got for Lucas Hernández — plus the various veterans who create space on the wage bill as they walk out the door — it might not matter.
Atlético might prefer their former player (can we call him that yet?) move somewhere other than to a title rival, but if he does go to Barcelona they will try to leverage their negotiating position by asking for players in return. Only time will tell if it was worth it or if Griezmann is left on the shelf so long that he has to go at a discount.