Antoine Griezmann’s return to Atletico Madrid happened right when Barcelona finally had room to make him their star.
After a long wait, Griezmann’s Atletico Madrid return happened right when Barcelona finally had room to make him their star.
5 a.m. ET
Sid Lowe is a writer from Spain.
23:59:40 was the time. Atletico Madrid finalized the deal that brought Antoine Griezmann “home” from Barcelona with 20 seconds left in the transfer window, or so the story goes. It was already late. Some thought it was too late. Though, as LaLiga put it, “just in time.” They issued a statement at 1 a.m., claiming that the transaction had been recorded in their system — LaLiga Manager, to be precise — before the deadline. There had been no postponement, no rewinding of time. Atletico Madrid eventually confirmed the acquisition of Saul Niguez at 1:22 a.m., half an hour after confirming his transfer to Chelsea. Antoine, welcome back.
It’s just what he wanted. In a way, yes.
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Griezmann hadn’t planned it this way, and he hadn’t anticipated it when he joined two years ago, but it was the only way out. It shouldn’t have come to this, despite the fact that it was always conceivable from the start. And now that he’d arrived to this point, he needed to find a way out. They’d all done it. This was also what Barcelona want; more importantly, it was what they need. And after the club decided it was best to let him leave, he was certain — inasmuch as he was certain of anything — that he wanted to return to Atletico, to a place where he would be desired, to a squad that could even be better than the one he was leaving.
It’s unclear how much they’re desired at this time. Of course, some fans will be skeptical, having been burned by the manner he departed in the first place. But goals and the generosity he’s never lacked heal wounds, and Atletico knows how terrific he can be better than anybody. It’s not like things went horribly wrong the last time they grabbed a free striker from Barcelona. In fact, the last two occasions.
🎥 Griezmann is welcomed back to the Wanda @Metropolitano by Enrique Cerezo.
September 8, 2021 — Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish)
And one thing is certain: Diego Simeone is well-versed on the subject. Atletico’s manager, while seeming unsentimental, has a nostalgic tendency that sees him return to people he knows, and he wanted Griezmann back, persuading him to return to a family that he had felt so much a part of. There was solace waiting for you.
He never really did at the Camp Nou, for whatever reason. “If I have to apologize, I will do it on the pitch,” he said even during his presentation. After his departure, he wrote a letter to fans thanking them for their support, saying he was “proud” to have been one of them, which he never truly was, and admitting that he was “sad” that he wouldn’t be able to enjoy them more “in the stands,” a remark that was probably about more than just the wide, empty spaces the pandemic brought.
Griezmann never quite got his feet at Barcelona, at least not in the way he had hoped or at Atletico Madrid. He now departs in the same manner as he would have done if the circumstances had finally suited him. Except, of course, that the economic situation had deteriorated to the point that it had eclipsed everything else, and a great deal had been lost in the process.
Griezmann’s stint at Barcelona did not go as planned, but Atletico Madrid was more than willing to give him another opportunity. Getty Images/FRANCK FIFE/AFP
Griezmann was signed for €120 million with add-ons by Barcelona. On a two-year loan, he will leave for free. Atletico will be obligated to pay €40 million to fund a permanent transfer if he plays more than 50% of the games in his second season, according to a provision in the contract, though such non-negotiable agreements sometimes become negotiable after all.
Even without Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s situation has grown dire. There is no fee for at least two years, but Barcelona still owed €72 million in amortisation on Griezmann’s contract, and letting him leave would save them a total of €20 million each year if incentives are included in. It may be worth up to €100 million to them in total.
They may also feel that, in terms of football, they’ve finally cut their losses and that it’s time to let go. Except as an indication of the severity of the situation at the Camp Nou, his exit has gone virtually unnoticed. Griezmann was “not the player we needed,” according to Barcelona president Joan Laporta, who stated this week that he was “not the player we needed” at the time. “He could have contributed more,” Laporta said. That was opportunistic, and it was also self-justifying, but it wasn’t completely unfair.
Griezmann finished his career with 35 goals and 19 assists in 102 games. There have been significant goals as well: he has started the scoring 19 times, and his goals have placed Barcelona ahead nine times. He hasn’t exactly failed. He, too, has not been a success — at least not in the traditional sense. At the very least, not one that isn’t qualified. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. It wasn’t quite as good as it might have been.
It’s easy to forget that this is a guy who arrived as one of the greatest in the world, a man who became a world champion that summer. Who was a real contender for the Ballon d’Or? During his thoughts about whether or not to join Barcelona, his thinking process was documented in a documentary called “The Decision,” and he revealed an obsession: winning the Champions League. He had lost a final and, he plainly feared, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at Atletico; he would have another shot with Barcelona.
He didn’t do it.
Julien Laurens wonders why Barcelona seems to be planning to strengthen a direct competitor in exchange for Antoine Griezmann.
Griezmann’s sister informs him in “The Decision” that whatever success he has at Atletico would be his; any success he has at Barcelona will be Messi’s. But he doesn’t have a lot of success to boast about. In the two years he was there, European elimination came in the form of an 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich and a 5-1 aggregate loss to PSG. He has just one trophy to his name: the Copa del Rey. The squad he left behind is the league winners, and the Messi issue, that feeling of belonging, has always been there.
Griezmann imitated LeBron James by throwing confetti in the air after scoring his first Barcelona goal. “I had seen Messi do it,” he remarked of his goal, a beautiful curler into the net. That statement has always struck me as having meaning on some level. Messi was in the stands on that particular day, but Griezmann would have to share space with him on most other occasions. He’d joined maybe the world’s only club where the player in his position — off the right, off the front — was better than him, if not the greatest player ever.
Griezmann had also joined the club a year late, having first turned them down — and in that documentary, he had turned them down. He’d signed for them for a hefty price, and he’d done so instead of Neymar, the player Messi had often said he wanted. “We would have signed Neymar if we hadn’t signed Griezmann,” Eric Abidal would remark. Griezmann arrived contrite, knowing that he needed to make amends, but he didn’t fully succeed. He scored 15 and 20 goals in each of his seasons at Atletico, while playing on a squad that was much more offensive.
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Some are stunning, really incredible, but few stick out as major highlights, though it would be unjust to ignore his opener in the cup final.
More than that, there’s something less concrete, the overwhelming sense that he didn’t truly fit, beyond the objectives, numbers, and measures by which to evaluate him. Yes, Griezmann was excellent, and his attitude could not be faulted, but he was not that good. He was never really able to discover himself until the very end, and he didn’t get much assistance in doing so. And he was fully aware of it.
“I’ve had three managers in a year and a half here,” Griezmann told Jorge Valdano in an interview. In one news conference, he was asked whether he could play better on the right side, to which he responded, “that’s a good question.” “Deschamps understands where to play me,” he said at one international gathering. The “unlike Barcelona” portion was self-evident.
Griezmann was well-liked at Barcelona, but he lacked the charisma to make an impact. One boss essentially told him that he had no choice but to get on with it; he had no choice but to do it. There will be no more excuses. Another attempted to get him into the game by encouraging him to take a more active role. “He’s not a ‘crack’ [great],” a director was reported as stating privately by El Pais recently, which would have been OK if he wasn’t meant to be.
And now that Messi has left, he may be able to step into that role, taking on the burden and reaping the rewards.
Barcelona had first seen his departure as a means of retaining Messi. Both were untenable from a financial standpoint. Same ventured to dream of a three-figure price, despite the fact that no bids had been made at that point in the summer. They had previously said that they were open to his departing as early as mid-July. A trade deal with Saul was considered, but it fell through. They had attempted to force him out, something he had come to accept. Then Messi walked away, leaving him behind.
Some in the club speculated that it was Antoine’s turn. “Antoine will undoubtedly become more crucial now,” manager Ronald Koeman remarked. “It’s conceivable that he’ll take Leo’s place. This will offer the team and himself greater flexibility. It may be beneficial to him.”
He’s no longer here. If it’s a missed chance, it’s because it’s also one that may have already passed you by. And, as the old adage goes, “it’s the economy, stupid.” Messi’s departure was not sufficient, but it was also not sufficient. While Memphis Depay appeared unconcerned about what or who had come before him, he was eager to seize control, to take center stage, and to fill that vacuum, Griezmann had yet to hit the objective. Summer had moved on, something had broken, and it didn’t seem quite right — if it had ever been right. Then came the phone call from home. It came late, but it came.
Griezmann’s Atletico Madrid return happened right when Barcelona finally had room to make him their star. Reference: griezmann juventus transfer.
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