Antoine Griezmann, by his own admission, spent a lot of time in the early days of his Barcelona career just watching. Wary of how many players before him had failed to adapt to life at the Camp Nou, the Frenchman didn’t just concentrate on his own game, but on that of his new teammates. Most notably, Lionel Messi.
For a long time, Griezmann’s observations helped him little. Just like Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele before him, the forward struggled to find his place in the Barcelona team. He was a tactical misfit. Used on both the left wing and through the middle as a centre forward, nothing seemed to work for Griezmann.
Recently, though, something has changed. Griezmann has found a rich vein of form, notching two goals and three assists in his last three appearances, and a role for himself in Ronald Koeman’s side. While he may have missed a pen in the Supercopa de España semi-final against Real Sociedad, he also served up the assist for his side's lone regulation goal.
The Frenchman is being used on the left, not through the middle as he publicly demanded not so long ago, but something has changed in Griezmann’s outlook and mindset. His tracking back and work ethic has been key to Barcelona’s recent resurgence, with the Camp Nou outfit unbeaten in their last eight league fixtures. Barca’s recent run of good form has seen them rise up to third place in La Liga with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid in sight again, while the Supercopa de España Final looms Sunday. Griezmann has played an important role in this turnaround.
Barcelona have found some balance. Frenkie de Jong is flourishing in a more advanced midfield role. Pedri’s emergence has given Koeman the central creator he needed, while Messi has rediscovered his groove. There’s a smile on the Argentine’s face again. Pedri, and the relationship he has struck up with Messi, has been widely credited for this, but Griezmann’s recent contribution shouldn’t be overlooked.
Signed to fill the void left at the Camp Nou by Neymar, Griezmann if finally fulfilling on that brief. While Neymar was a match-winner in his own right, his real value to Barcelona was in his auxiliary work for the team. This is where Griezmann offers most. The Frenchman is capable of delivering a match-winning moment, but it’s as a facilitator that he is most useful to Koeman.
“I didn't leave Atleti to win the Champions League or to lift more trophies,” Griezmann explained in an interview, providing an insight into his thought process in joining Barca. “I came to Barcelona to learn a new style of play, a new philosophy. It was all about learning at a club that conceives football in a different manner.”
Griezmann has more than once spoken of his admiration of the great Barcelona team that featured the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Neymar and of course Messi. By the time Griezmann actually made it to Barcelona, though, this era of the Catalan club had passed. He is charged with helping Barca transition into a new generation.
This commitment to the case, and to making a success of himself at the Camp Nou, is what earned Griezmann so much patience from the Barcelona coaching staff and the club’s fanbase. Even during his times of struggle, the Frenchman has been afforded some leeway to turn things around. Fans recognised how badly he wanted this to work out.
Barcelona are still expected to enter the transfer market for a new centre forward at some point in the near future. The departure of Luis Suarez to Atletico Madrid last summer left a vacant place in Koeman’s squad. Inter’s Lautaro Martinez has been strongly linked with a move to the Camp Nou while Erling Haaland is another striker reportedly on the Catalans’ radar. Meanwhile, Suarez is playing a key role for Atletico Madrid as they target the Spanish title this season.
Of course, the political and financial uncertainty surrounded Barca could have an impact on the calibre of player they can realistically target. This was a factor in the club’s signing of Martin Braithwaite, with the Dane a cheap option from Leganes–and it could be a factor in a lack of competition for Griezmann’s place after this summer.
Griezmann might never get to be the player he wants to be for Barcelona. He might also never get the opportunity to play for the sort of Barcelona team he always envisaged himself playing for. Those days are gone. But Griezmann’s recent performances suggest he could still play a very important role for a successful Barca side. He is finally starting to look like he belongs at the Camp Nou.