Antoine Griezmann better get comfortable on the Atletico Madrid bench because that’s where he’ll be spending much of his time this season. This isn’t a reflection on the French forward’s ability – in fact, Griezmann is one of the most talented players currently at the Wanda Metropolitano. Instead, it’s a reflection of the gross mismanagement at the executive level of not one, but two clubs.
Griezmann is in the second year of a two-year loan stint at Atleti from Barcelona. If he plays 45 minutes or more in 14 of Atletico Madrid’s matches this season, the capital club will be obligated to sign Griezmann permanently for a fee of €40m. Atleti, already under financial pressure, don’t want to pay this money.
This unusual contract clause means Griezmann is yet to start a single La Liga game this season, instead coming off the bench for 30 minutes or less of four matches. The 31-year-old has still managed to find the back of the net twice, but Diego Simeone has his hands tied and must refrain from using the Frenchman from the start.
Not only does this reflect badly on Atletico Madrid, whose current debt amounts to roughly €1 billion, but on Barcelona, who are still paying for the reckless decision to sign Griezmann three years ago. They didn’t need Griezmann – in fact, the club didn’t even have a place for him in their team – but this didn’t stop the Catalans from spending €120m on one of their rival’s best players just because they could.
In two seasons at the Camp Nou, Griezmann was a relative flop – he scored just 35 times in 102 appearances for Barcelona. This certainly didn’t vindicate the club record transfer outlay and the €350,000-a-week wage Barca paid Griezmann and the French international was quickly pushed back towards Atletico Madrid on loan.
Some reports claim Barcelona are still paying a portion of Griezmann’s wages to play for one of their closest rivals, further underlining the mistake the club made by signing him in the first place. But Atletico Madrid also made a mistake by allowing Griezmann to return to the Spanish capital when they had already moved on without him.
Atletico Madrid had just won the Spanish title when they welcomed back Griezmann. The club had reinvested the €120m transfer fee they received for the Frenchman from Barcelona in Joao Felix who represented the future for Atleti. They wanted to take a different tact and their new Portuguese teenager embodied this.
Simeone spoke more than once about his desire to remould Atletico Madrid as a more expansive, modern team. Felix’s signing was at the heart of this new approach, yet Griezmann’s return to the club disrupted this. The Frenchman’s best quality is his energy and willingness to press from the front, but these weren’t qualities Atleti needed to the same degree any longer.
Atleti have hoarded attackers in recent seasons. Indeed, Griezmann is just one member of a group that now includes Felix, Alvaro Morata, Angel Correa, Thomas Lemar and Matheus Cunha. All six players are talented in their own right and give Simeone significant depth in the attacking third, but Atletico Madrid lack a clear structure in their play.
Recent reports claim Barcelona are taking legal advice over Griezmann’s situation at Atletico Madrid. Some suggest that a compromise could be reached between the two La Liga clubs that allows Griezmann to play more matches without obligating Atleti to sign him permanently at the end of the season.
Of course, this would be beneficial to Griezmann who is preparing for the 2022 World Cup where he is expected to an important figure for defending champions France. Didier Deschamps will likely pick Griezmann for his squad no matter what happens at club level between now and November, but Les Blues need the 31-year-old to be sharp by the time the tournament starts.
Not so long ago, Griezmann was considered one of the best forwards in the world. He was mentioned alongside the likes of Neymar and Gareth Bale as the attacker who could realistically claim to be the best behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. At 31, Griezmann should still be at the peak of his powers.
That he is currently limited to cameo appearances off the bench isn’t necessarily his fault, but it is a by-product of his decision to bounce between two of the worst-run clubs in the sport. Atletico Madrid and Barcelona have both been mismanaged and Griezmann has become a victim of it.