On a quiet Tuesday night in Madrid, a man wanders through the empty city streets longing to return home. Some time of searching passes until he finally finds himself at the foot of his old front door, and reality starts to sink in. Pushing past the apprehension and nerves, he balls up his fist and knocks. The seconds have turned into eons until the door slowly opens to reveal the figure of his father standing alone. Unwavering. Expressionless. The two stand there for a while until the man opens his mouth to say something. Almost immediately he is cut off by the smothering embrace of his father, filling him with a love he has not felt for years.
The prodigal son has returned. But far from having his tail between his legs and head in hands, he returns with a vengeance. He has wrongs to rights. Bridges to rebuild. Simply put- he has something to prove.
Two years and five days after his announcement to depart Atletico Madrid, Antoine Griezmann arrives back at the club that moulded him into the elite footballer that he is today. Despite scoring 153 goals in 257 games for Los Rojiblancos and lifting 3 trophies over his 5 years, Griezmann’s return is blighted by the questionable manner in which he departed the club.
Everyone was aware of the interest surrounding the former 3rd place Ballon D'or candidate. For years, the likes of Manchester United, Barcelona and PSG were extremely interested in the Frenchman, and Griezmann himself had made that knowledge very public. It was inevitable that such flattering attention was going to follow a global superstar. What was not excusable in the eyes of the fans, was the way in which Griezmann seemed to toy with the prospect of staying or leaving, and never seeming concrete in his desires.
In 2016, he rated his chances of transferring to Manchester United "6/10", before deciding to stay in Madrid another year. In 2018, Griezmann also came mightily close to signing for Barcelona. In an attempt to demonstrate a degree of transparency, he released a documentary titled "La Decision", which illustrated his thought process as he weighed his options up. In the end, he chose the red and white of Atletico Madrid for another season, a decision which was greeted by the Mattress Makers with praise and admiration. However, his signing for Barcelona a year later essentially rendered this gesture useless, and proved to be a slap in the face to the fans that had supported and defended him for half a decade.
Griezmann’s time at Barcelona has not been a complete failure. Compared to other huge money signings in La Liga, Griezmann’s record of 35 goals in 102 games, including the opening goal in the 2021 Copa Del Rey final, proves that he has given some return to the club. But after signing for an eye-watering 120 million euros and raking in 345,000 euros per week, his spell can hardly be deemed a success. After all, he did join a club where a little Argentine named Lionel Messi was the only player in the world better at playing his position than himself.
Catching up to the present now, and Griezmann has rejoined Atletico Madrid, forced out of Barcelona by a board desperate enough to sell their right arm for a transfer fee, and the fans who view him as the sole reason for Messi’s departure. With seemingly both parties wanting to wage war with the Frenchman, one man stands alone as his only ally. A man that views Griezmann as one of his finest coaching achievements, who looked on in sheer disgust at his 90th minute substitution into the game during their 2020 encounter, a man who still believes in him.
Diego Simeone could prove to be the man that revitalises Griezmann’s career.
It will prove to be one of his biggest personal coaching challenges yet. At age 30, Griezmann is still in his prime, and his talent and footballing intelligence are undeniable. He may return back to a club that has evolved since his departure, even surpassing his current employers in last season’s league campaign. But one thing is for certain- he would not be at Atletico Madrid if Simeone did not believe in him.
Only time will tell whether Simeone’s faith will be rewarded, but as evidenced from Suarez only a year prior, a man playing with passion and something to prove under Simeone is a man that is capable of anything.