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Antoine Griezmann: After diminishing returns at Atletico Madrid, Barcelona move will show just how good France superstar really is


With July underway and Antoine Griezmann’s buyout clause now dropping to €120million, one of the most drawn-out transfer sagas in years is well on its way to ending.

The Frenchman could be confirmed and presented as a Barcelona player as soon as next week, with only the details of exactly how the fee is made up left to be finalised.

Griezmann will join Barcelona this summer
Getty

Though the Catalans won’t pay any more than the €120million (£113million) it takes to release Griezmann from his contract, Atlético Madrid would be willing to take a smaller figure if Nelson Semedo is included in the move.

Diego Simeone wants a new right-back at the Wanda Metropolitano, both to provide competition for Santiago Arias and to cover for the departure of Juanfran, and the Argentinian coach is keen on the Barça defender.

The Portuguese, regularly dropped in favour of Sergi Roberto since moving to Spain, is hungry for more minutes, and Semedo’s agent Jorge Mendes has a strong working relationship with Atleti. Barcelona, meanwhile, may be tempted by the option of paying out less, thereby freeing up capital to pull off the tricky move of bringing Neymar back to Catalonia.

Griezmann battled Lionel Messi last season – but will play alongside him in 2019/20
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Regardless of the nuance of how the deal is executed, Griezmann will finally be at the Nou Camp for next season, and the expectations awaiting the World Cup winner are exceptionally high.

The protracted nature of his transfer, particularly 2018’s last minute change of heart and the less than captivating documentary with which it was revealed, have worn away at the patience of Barça fans. They will expect the forward to hit the ground running, deliver, and deliver big if he is going to win them over.


That dynamic is particularly intriguing as, last season, delivering on the big occasion wasn’t something Griezmann made a habit of. Going long stretches without goals, he failed yet again to score in two games for Atleti against the side they were hoping to wrestle the league title from – the very team he will now join.

In fact, Griezmann has never scored a league goal against Barça for the Colchoneros; his return reads 10 matches, 10 blanks. Twice making the top three in the Ballon d’Or during that time, his elite level stature naturally meant he was expected to be the difference-maker for his team in trying to make up the gap with the Catalans (who Atleti twice finished runners-up to in LaLiga during that period).

Instead, he was ineffective.

For those paying attention, that’s an alarm bell that raises reasonable doubts over whether the 28-year-old has the effectiveness to help decide a league title race; league titles that by default he will be expected to help win at the Camp Nou every season.


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Then there is the question of his more general diminishing returns across the board. When Griezmann hit his peak at Atlético he was a forward with a similar kind of influence on his team as Messi has at Barcelona.

After fully settling and adapting to Simeone’s demands, the Frenchman’s development skyrocketed, to the point that every attacking move went through him, earning a positional freedom that the Argentinian coach rarely concedes.

Watching the attacker pick up the ball in his own half, start off a move with a dribble or sharp pass, then finish it off at the other end was spectacular.

The 2015/16 season, when he scored 32 goals and assisted a further seven, driving Atleti to the Champions League final, made everyone in Spain sit up and take note.

The bright but inconsistent winger from the Real Sociedad days had blossomed into an all-action, all-influencing figure to match Messi at Barça and Cristiano Ronaldo at Madrid.

Antoine Griezmann won the Europa League with Atletico Madrid in 2017/18
Getty Images

The following year Griezmann’s goals tally dropped, but an increase in assists meant his overall influence in front of goal remained almost identical (38 combined goals and assists), and the pay-off for the still exceptional displays was another excellent European run from Atleti, who eventually lost to their city rivals Real in the semi-final.

In the subsequent season leading up to the World Cup there was a point of inflection however.

In the Champions League, a poor goals return and equally dismal performances from their main attacking threat contributed to Atleti’s shock group stage exit, and though Griezmann would go on to score freely in the Europe League, Europe’s second tier was a low bar with which to judge him.

Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe fired France to victory in Russia
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Beyond the numbers, the individual displays were less free-flowing, less threatening, less impressive.

Griezmann started to show visible frustration with things not going his way on the pitch like they used to, and that trend continued last season.

A haul of a combined 31 goals and assists in 2018/19 was significantly lower than the 39 and 38 from 2016 and 2017 respectively, and it was on par with the attacker’s first year at Atleti. A year where he was still learning the ropes at the club.

After growing into one of the top players in the world, has Griezmann regressed? Could he already be past his best? The debate is at least a reasonable one to have.

Griezmann applauds Atletico Madrid fans at the end of the 2018/19 season
Getty Images

The excuse often used to deflect it is that Simeone’s defence-first style of football relies heavily on the Frenchman’s inspiration, of which he doesn’t have an endless well. But at the Camp Nou, the creative burden is more evenly shared.

The burden of expectation, however, is not. We’re about to find out just how good the No.7 still is.  

 

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