It was at 23:59:40. There were 20 seconds left until the market closed when Atlético de Madrid closed the operation to bring Antoine Griezmann “home” from Barcelona, or at least that is what is said. Either way, it was late. Too late, some said. Although just in time, LaLiga said. At one in the morning, they issued a statement insisting that the operation had been registered in their system – and, yes, it is really called LaLiga Manager – before the deadline expired. There was no extension, no waiting time. At 1:22 am, half an hour after confirming that Saúl Ñíguez was going to Chelsea, Atlético finally announced the signing. Welcome back, Antoine.
It’s what he wanted. Well more or less.
This was not what Griezmann had planned, nor the way he had envisioned it when he signed two years earlier, but it was the best way out. It shouldn’t have come to this, although it was always possible for it to happen, right from the start. And having come to this, having come to this point, I needed a way out. They all needed it. This was also what Barcelona wanted; rather, it was what he needed. And once the club decided that it was better to let him go, he was sure – as sure as he could be of something – that he wanted to return to Atlético, to a place where he would feel loved, and where the team could even be better than he was. left.
How dear, at this point, is something that remains to be seen. Some fans will of course have their doubts hurt by the way he went in the first place. However, the wounds heal with goals and with the generosity that he has never lacked, and Atlético knows better than anyone how good he can be. Nor is it that things have gone bad the last time they brought in a free striker from Barcelona. The last two times, in fact.
🎥 Enrique Cerezo welcomes Griezmann back to the Wanda @Metropolitan.
– Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) September 8, 2021
And one thing is certain: Diego Simeone knows it. Atlético’s coach, supposedly unsentimental, does have a nostalgic streak that often makes him return to those he knows, and he wanted Griezmann to return, convincing him to return to a family that he had really felt part of. There was comfort, waiting.
At the Camp Nou, in a way, it was never like that. In his presentation, he even said: “If I have to apologize, I will do it on the court.” After his departure, he published a note addressed to fans in which he thanked them for the support that he had not always felt; he said he was “proud” to have been one of them, although somehow he never was at all; and he acknowledged that he was leaving “sad” for not having been able to enjoy them more “in the stands”, a comment that probably did not refer only to the empty seats as a result of the pandemic.
Griezmann never quite found his place in Barcelona, certainly not in the way he had imagined or as he did at Atlético. And now he is leaving when conditions could finally have favored him. Except, of course, that economic conditions had turned dramatic, overshadowing everything else, and a lot has been lost along the way.
Griezmann arrived in Barcelona for € 120 million plus accessories. It goes free, on loan for two years. A clause in the agreement indicates that if he plays more than 50 percent of the games in his second season, Atlético will be obliged to pay € 40 million to finance a permanent pass, although these types of non-negotiable agreements tend to become negotiable anyway. .
This is how desperate the situation in Barcelona is, even with the departure of Lionel Messi. There is no amount for a pass for at least two years, but Barcelona still had € 72m in amortization remaining from the signing of Griezmann and letting him go will mean saving a total figure, once they add the complements, not far from the € 20m per year. In short, it could be worth around € 100m to them.
Maybe they can also think that they have finally ended their losses in purely football terms, that it was time to let go. His departure has certainly been little regretted, except as an expression of the seriousness of the crisis at the Camp Nou. Barcelona president Joan Laporta said this week that Griezmann “was not the player we were needing” in the situation he found himself in. Laporta added, “I could have given much more.” That was opportunistic – justifying itself, too – but not entirely unfair.
Griezmann leaves having scored 35 goals and provided 19 assists in 102 games. There were important goals too: he opened the scoring 19 times, and nine times his goals left Barcelona in the lead. Not that it failed, exactly. But it hasn’t been a huge success either – not really. At least it has not been an extraordinary one. It wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t too good either … not as good as it should have been.
This is a player, this is something that many sometimes forget, that he came to be one of the best in the world, a man who that summer became world champion. Someone who was a candidate for the Ballon d’Or. During his deliberations, when he was trying to decide whether to join Barcelona or not, in the process with which he made the decision, which was broadcast in a documentary called “The Decision”, came to light an obsession: winning the Champions League. He had lost a final and, clearly, he feared that this would have been his chance with Atlético; He thought that in Barcelona another chance was going to come.
But it was not like that.
In “La Decision”, Griezmann’s sister tells him that any success he had at Atlético was going to be his; any success he could achieve in Barcelona was going to be Messi. But there was not much success to share either. During the two years he was there, the European elimination came with an 8-2 loss to Bayern and a 5-1 loss overall against PSG. He has won only one trophy: the Copa del Rey. The team he left behind became the league champion and that question regarding Messi has always been present, that sense of place, of fitting in.
When Griezmann scored his first goal for Barcelona, he celebrated in style, imitating LeBron James. He said of his goal, one that waved towards the net, that “he had seen Messi do it.” There was always a feeling that, on some level, there was something in that sentence. That day, Messi was watching from the outside, but most of the time, Griezmann had to try to find his place next to him. He had perhaps joined the only team in the world in which the man who played in his position – coming from the right in front – was better than him, perhaps the best player of all time.
Griezmann had also joined the club a year late, having told them not the first time – and turning them down in that documentary. He had joined for a huge sum, and had joined in place of Neymar, the man Messi never stopped saying he wanted by his side. “If we hadn’t signed Griezmann, we would have added Neymar,” Eric Abidal would say. Griezmann realized that he was going to have to compensate them, but he couldn’t quite do it. He scored 15 and 20 goals – fewer than in any of his seasons with Atlético, and playing with a much more offensive team.
Some are beautiful, brilliant moments, but few stand out as great moments, although it would be unfair to overlook his goal that opened the scoring in the cup final.
But more than that, is that beyond the goals, the statistics, and the metric systems with which his productivity is measured, there is something less tangible, and it is the inescapable feeling that he never really fit into the team. That Griezmann was good, yes, and you couldn’t blame him for his attitude, but he wasn’t that good. He was never able to find himself, nor did he receive much help to be able to do so. And he knew it all the time.
Griezmann not only told Jorge Valdano in an interview: “I have had three coaches in a year and a half here.” When asked if perhaps he would play better on the right during a press conference, he replied: “That is a good question. “At an international meeting, he commented:” Deschamps knows when he has to make me come onto the court to play. “
In Barcelona it was to everyone’s liking, but Griezmann seemed to lack the personality to impose himself. One coach actually told him that he had to move forward; just do it. Without excuses. Another tried to get him more into the game. “He’s not a ‘crack’,” El País recently quoted a director saying it privately, which could have been fine, but was supposed to be.
And now, with the departure of Messi, perhaps he could become one, being all his responsibility to achieve it, but also the reward.
Initially, Barcelona had seen his departure as a way to hold on to Messi. Having them both was financially unsustainable. Some dared to dream of a three-digit sum. But there were no offers in those instances of the summer. They had said in mid-July that they were ready to let him go. An exchange with Saul was among the possibilities, but it came to nothing. They had tried to push him away, something he had ended up accepting. And then Messi left, leaving him behind.
It’s Antoine’s time, some within the club suggested. “Now, Antoine will surely be more important,” said coach Ronald Koeman. “It is possible that he will occupy Leo’s position. This will give more freedom to the team and also to him. It could be an advantage for him.”
Now he’s gone. If it is a missed opportunity, it may also be because it is an opportunity that has passed. And, well, just like the old saying goes: it’s the economy, stupid. Messi’s departure was not enough. While to Memphis Depay it seemed unimportant what had happened before or who had been there, decided to take control, occupy center stage and occupy that empty space, and Griezmann still had not managed to fire a shot at the target. The thoughts of summer were gone, something was broken, something no longer felt quite right – if it ever felt really good. And then came the call from home. Late, but it came.