As initially reported in Mundo Deportivo — and since corroborated in other, more-reputable outlets — Atlético Madrid and Barcelona are studying a seismic swap deal that would see Antoine Griezmann return to the Spanish capital.
Saúl Ñíguez would head the other way to join the other Barcelona players who can’t be registered to play in LaLiga because of the club’s crippling debt.
This is the motivating factor behind every single move Barcelona will make this summer — reducing the wage bill in order to officially sign Lionel Messi to a new contract. But Barça’s problems are unique, and they are such that the league may reduce the squad’s salary limit to €160 million this coming season — two years ago, the Catalan club had a €671 million salary limit for its first team players.
The ensuing required clearout hasn’t really taken off, as president Joan Laporta has so far been unsuccessful in convincing high-earning benchwarmers like Miralem Pjanić and Samuel Umtiti to terminate their contracts and leave.
So given how slow-moving the market has been in this transfer window, there’s now a belief at Camp Nou that if Messi ultimately renews, then Griezmann must go because of the outsized impact their two salaries will have on the reduced wage bill.
Meanwhile, Atlético have had a Saúl-sized problem since stories emerged about his desire to leave the club.
The 26-year-old endured a poor 2020/21 season but Atleti went on to win the league anyway, and recent speculation has linked him with a move to Liverpool. It’s unclear whether a firm offer has been lodged, though reports have consistently claimed that Atleti are willing to do a deal if a club comes in with an offer between €40 million and €50 million.
Which brings us to Mundo Deportivo’s Saturday bombshell.
Ronald Koeman is still reeling from losing free agent Georginio Wijnaldum to Paris Saint-Germain, and Saúl — versatile, energetic, experienced — has the box-to-box profile that the Dutch coach wants in midfield.
Beyond that, Saúl’s salary is considerably lower than Griezmann’s, and the Atlético stalwart won’t even have to leave Spain for a change of scenery.
As for Griezmann, it’s no secret that his two-year spell at Barcelona has produced less-than-desirable results.
Griezmann had a solid season in 2020/21, when he scored 13 goals and assisted seven more in LaLiga, but he is not what he was three years ago. The 30-year-old’s domestic form has been inconsistent since his €120 million transfer, reflecting difficulties playing more-or-less as an out-and-out winger — and under three different coaches. The player left Atlético ostensibly “to win trophies” but has claimed a solitary Copa del Rey in two seasons.
Yet, even though the manner of Griezmann’s 2019 departure left a foul taste, Simeone would reportedly be thrilled to have his former talisman back, and the player’s family remembers life in Madrid fondly. President Enrique Cerezo also holds no grudge with Griezmann and has professed his desire to see him return someday.
My take is Atlético should not have any appetite to help Barcelona out of its financial hell and cede a €50 million-rated midfielder while doing so. Nor should Atleti welcome overpaid racist Griezmann back into the fold after winning LaLiga without him, seeing João Félix (in the first half of the season) and Ángel Correa (in the second half) step up to replace the Frenchman in the aggregate.
The Spanish champions need to sign a Luis Suárez backup this summer, as well as finalize Rodrigo De Paul’s transfer from Udinese and find another option at left back. This would be a bad move.
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