Rather than focussing on next week’s Europa League final, Atletico Madrid have been forced to defend Antoine Griezmann from Barca’s persistent pursuit
In a textbook example of matters going south at the worst possible moment, both Atleti fans and players have been sucked into a drama-twister with Antoine Griezmann’s future as a Colchonero player once again in jeopardy.
Barça’s keen interest in the striker isn’t new: however, the latest developments happening less than one week before Atleti’s showdown against Marseille in the Europa League final have sparked a tremendous outrage.
Barcelona haven’t been discreet throughout the year when talking about their ongoing negotiations with the French forward. Talks which, by the way, are strictly forbidden by FIFA. In fact, spokesman Guillermo Amor put himself and the club into trouble by revealing details in December. It seemed that the Culé board had learnt its lesson…but, again, man is the only animal to trip twice over the same rock.
Lyon, on arrive !!!!!! ⚪? pic.twitter.com/XW5jH6YlFq
— Antoine Griezmann (@AntoGriezmann) May 3, 2018
This time, though, it was the president himself (Josep María Bartomeu) who literally admitted in an interview that, yeah, he has met Griezmann “many times” in trips to the Balearic Islands; that he didn’t speak with him “this year” but that he “spoke to his agent in October”.
At this point, the alert reader might note that the president didn’t know better or that, simply, he didn’t care enough to hide his intentions, regardless of FIFA’s stance on this issue.
Obviously, Bartomeu’s words made their way to the newspaper covers and Atleti fans were fuming with anger the next day. President Enrique Cerezo was prompted to arrange a meeting with the player to persuade him to negotiate an extension for his contract, but he hasn’t succeeded to date.
CEO Miguel Ángel Gil Marin expressed his anger by releasing an official statement on Tuesday which claimed they are “fed up with Barça’s behavior” on this issue. “Talking in that way about a player who is currently employed by another team is a tremendous showcase of disrespect towards Atlético (…) We have never negotiated Griezmann’s transfer and we never will (…) Enough is enough. Let us enjoy our moment and properly prepare for a European final”.
However, such a blunt statement didn’t prevent journalists and the media from turning the UEFA Europa League final Media Day into a Griezmann-themed event, asking players such as Filipe Luis, Gabi or Diego Costa about their team-mate. Most of them fired back the same answers: a) “It’s not the time to talk about this, we are playing a final in less than a week”; b) “Griezmann is a fantastic player and we want him to stay”.
But the feeling coming out of the press conference was that, unfortunately, right now the Europa League final is practically being considered as an afterthought. At least, amongst the media.
On a practical level, Barça’s pursuit of Griezmann makes a lot of sense. His buyout clause ($119 million) is ‘affordable’ for a club who spent much more both on Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembelé last season. The Frenchman has a good relationship with many Uruguayan friends he made back in Real Sociedad (‘Charrua’ manager Martín Lasarte was the one to give him the chance in the first team), so he would be comfortable around Luis Suarez. One of ‘Grizi’s best friends (Samuel Umtiti) plays for Barça. Also, the number 7 (Antoine’s number) is free right now…
Even as Atleti are trying as hard as they can to make a last-minute offer which bumps up his salary to $24 million per season and consolidates Griezmann as the best paid player in the team, things look quite bleak for the Colchonero board. There are simply too many signs pointing in the direction of a summer move to Barcelona… even if their tactics in this regard have been more than questionable.