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Negotiations progressing between Atlético and Barça in Griezmann-Saúl swap

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This dramatic and unpopular player exchange might just take place after all.

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You couldn’t make up this one:

Exactly two years after he was presented as an FC Barcelona player, Antoine Griezmann is closing in on a remarkable return to Atlético Madrid.

Spanish radio station Cadena Cope, television channel Cuatro, and RMC Sport in France are among the outlets indicating that an improbable Griezmann-for-Saúl Ñíguez swap deal looks increasingly likely.

AS Roma v Atletico Madrid - UEFA Champions League Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Griezmann and his family are currently vacationing in Ibiza alongside Koke and his family, and this deal is coming together at such a rapid pace that it may take only another week for it to be finalized. Wages and contract figures are being thrown around now, which often is a sign that negotiations between player(s) and club(s) are at an advanced stage.

One reason for this apparent time-crunch is the pressing matter of Lionel Messi’s new contract. Reports early Wednesday stated that Messi has agreed to a five-year deal to stay at Camp Nou — the length of the deal being a necessity in order for his still-significant salary to pass the smell test from LaLiga’s investigators.

As I wrote just a few days ago, Barcelona will not be able to fit Messi’s new, trimmed-down salary next to Griezmann’s given the club’s deep financial problems. With negotiations well underway to sell Griezmann, the blaugrana can put the wheels in motion to formalize Messi’s contract.

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The most attractive part of a Griezmann-Saúl trade for Barça president Joan Laporta is that his club will pocket some savings in the deal. The midfielder’s gross salary (€12 million per year) is much lower than the forward’s (roughly €24 million), and Saúl’s net salary comes in at less than €8 million per year while Griezmann costs at least twice that amount.

For Atlético, Diego Simeone has played a significant behind-the-scenes role in his former talisman’s potential reacquisition, and the coach would be “delighted” for Griezmann to come back to the club that made him a superstar. Griezmann would do well to remember that. He would be the latest player to learn that leaving Simeone’s Atlético often doesn’t equate to finding greener pastures.

Cope’s Paco González claims Griezmann will accept a large pay cut — down to €13 million per year — in order to engineer a move back to the Wanda Metropolitano. But that’s the least he’ll have to do to win back the fans — many of whom remain angry at him and disillusioned with his behavior, racist and otherwise. The Frenchman’s plaque outside the Metropolitano has been defaced, and supporters chanted for his death when he returned to the stadium as a Barcelona player in December 2019.

From a market perspective, Atlético view this as an opportunity too good to pass up — and furthermore, as a “win-win” for multiple parties. Saúl will get a change of scenery if the deal goes through and can solidify Barcelona’s midfield if he finds form again — he’ll also leave Atleti on good terms, even after his poor 2020/21. The reigning champions have effectively already replaced him with Rodrigo De Paul.

From a sporting perspective, Atlético arguably get the better end of this proposed deal, at least in the short term. Griezmann might be an embarrassing person, but he’s a great player who is still in his prime, is willing to reduce his salary drastically, and would possibly join without an upfront transfer fee changing hands. You have to admit — grabbing a Griezmann-Luis Suárez forward pairing from a direct rival for bonuses/solidarity fees only would be spectacular business.