Two summers ago, Antoine Griezmann rated his chances of leaving Atlético Madrid as a 7 out of 10. Since then, that number has fluctuated from a 1 (when he announced last summer that he was staying) to a 10 (once he released the video in May saying he had decided to leave). But he will now seek out new challenges in his career, as Barcelona finally paid his €120 million release clause on Friday to conclude a long-standing saga.
Diego Simeone said as the season ended that Atlético “need someone who plays behind the striker, scores 20 goals a year and doesn’t cost much” when asked what he would do to replace Griezmann. The Frenchman was the focal point to an Atlético side lacking anything resembling one in recent years, and he was their muse when creativity was missing. He was also the source of some frustration for rojiblanco fans due to his unwillingness to commit and due to his media antics.
Griezmann had outgrown Atlético. He got a nibble of success with France last summer, which came after he had released his documentary, and now he wants more. And Barcelona can offer him the chance to win a trophy in his first season. A year without one for them is seen as a disaster, a year with one for Atlético is seen as exceptional.
Griezmann’s departure offers Atlético another opportunity to start fresh with four times the money they paid for him. The question that will be asked in the coming weeks and months will be: was he worth the hassle?
The answer from a footballing standpoint is that yes, of course, he was. He scored 133 goals with 50 assists in his 200-plus games for the club. His compromise on the field was never in question, regardless of his reticence to ever truly commit to the cause and win over the fans at the Wanda Metropolitano.
The answer from Atlético’s vantage point, of course, is that he is somebody else’s problem now and that while he so often provided the spark they needed for the last number of years, maybe it was time to part ways. And that is partly the club’s own issue.
Staying atop the summit where Atlético have scratched and clawed to reach is proving more and more difficult. Manchester City and Liverpool and Barcelona keep investing in their squads with endless cash and savvy, data-driven signings, while Bayern Munich, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain keep reloading, ready to fire again when they fail. Atlético are left wondering how long more they can keep up.
What Atlético really need now is for João Félix to hit the ground running. He is younger and costs as much as they have received for Griezmann, but the Portuguese comes without the baggage. He comes with a willingness to learn from Diego Simeone and settle in for the long-ish haul. The teenager is the Frenchman’s replacement, but he isn’t the Frenchman/ That’s a good thing, because it adds another crease in Atlético’s attack, more nuance and maybe a few surprises.
Moreover, Simeone is a man of routine and regime. He is superstitious and doesn’t much care for change — an example being he wanted Atlético to wear blue in the 2016 Champions League final, having lost in red and white in 2014. Despite Atlético’s growing reputation, he was never willing to change their style or perception of who they were — for better or for worse.
They are an underdog in his eyes, and that’s how they fell against Juventus in the second leg of their last 16 knock-out tie, which is around the time Griezmann decided he was finished.
Now, Simeone really is forced to adapt. The Argentine will oversee a new, fresh, young team. More burden will be placed on Thomas Lemar and Marcos Llorente is a change of pace from Rodri. What’s more, the coach can’t lean on Diego Godín at the back anymore or Juanfran in tight spots like he has done over the last number of years.
Atlético signed Griezmann from Real Sociedad five years ago for €30 million. He played his part with over a century of goals and countless important ones amongst them. He has opted for pastures anew, which are not always greener as Philippe Coutinho can testify. But he has put himself in a position to win trophies and win them now.
And he has put Atlético in a position to reinvent themselves with a wad of cash at their disposal, as they peer into a bright and unpredictable future.