Over the course of the last few weeks, Antoine Griezmann has been a subject of deep discussion in the transfer market. Several reports relayed by a number of reputable Spanish media outlets linked the Frenchman to Manchester City, with Pep Guardiola reportedly interested in flexing his pull and the club’s financial muscles to bring both him and Harry Kane to the Etihad.
In the past 24 hours, even more layers of suspense and mystery have been juxtaposed to the asphyxiating thick air of uncertainty regarding his future.
The goal of the transfer is nimbly understood. The club is dealing with a financial crisis well beyond its power and will do anything within their power to get out of its current predicament, and trading their prized assets with other European giants will be pivotal to ensuring the club stays afloat. Unfortunately for El Principito, he is nothing more than collateral damage in the chaotic mess that is Barça’s financial state.
In wake of recent transfer rumours linking Griezmann to his former club Atletico Madrid in exchange for Saul, a host of flaws in reasoning have reared their faces. Some are based on past precedence, others pertaining to the structural balance of the forward line, and others in regards to the dynamics of the team as a whole.
In this article, Barça Universal explores why selling Antoine Griezmann to Atleti is a multi-layered mistake the Blaugrana should be the last to indulge in.
When will Barcelona learn?
In and of itself, given the predicaments, the club currently faces, offloading Griezmann is a sensible decision. They parted ways with Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, and Arturo Vidal last season to free up the wage bill, and this time, the club seeks to do the same with the Frenchman.
His market value has him at €60 million, and in addition to the 40 million spent on his salary, the club would easily save around 100 million in the immediate future, or in the event of a swap deal, they would get players and shave many millions off their wage bill. The problem here isn’t so much so that the Catalans seek to sell him, but who they want to sell him to.
“What happened with Luis Suarez to Atléti was crazy. He left for free, paying the remaining years of his contract and he joined a team that fights for the same objectives as us. Unbelievable.”Messi speaking to La Sexta
Over the past eight years, the Garnet and Blue have consistently been on the wrong end of transfers from Catalunya to the Spanish Capital. Some names easy to recall are those of David Villa and Luis Suarez, who abandoned Barca’s iconic colours for the piercing red and white of Los Colchoneros.
In both instances, the Catalans had themselves ridiculed both on the pitch for their decision making. At home, Barcelona had to suffer through having to deal with one of the worst versions of Lionel Messi early on, a misfiring Martin Braithwaite, an out of confidence Griezmann, injured Ansu Fati, and the guaranteed inconsistency of Ousmane Dembele.
Atleti’s own number 10, Angel Correa, had this to say on the deal: “They’ve done things very badly, First, how can you let a no.9 who wins games for you like Suarez slip through your fingers? We are happy because we have him with us. We watch [Barcelona] from the outside and you can tell things are being handled badly.”
He was well within his rights to say this. As the sages once coined, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and when it comes to Diego ‘Cholo’ Simeone, anything can be turned into gold. With Atleti’s few requirements for the Uruguayan centre forward, he slotted into their dynamics with utmost ease.
Surely the zeal and zest that came with the youth in his play was nowhere to be seen, but his finishing, even at 34, needs no fine-tuning. He was on target in the Madrid derby along with a host of other crucial matches all throughout the season.
The proof of his importance to Atleti came in the dying embers of the campaign as he won Atleti the final two games of the season en route to reclaiming their lost crown. Beyond individual instances, over the course of the season, his combined goals won Atleti a whopping 44 points, or 38 if we take into account matches where the winning margin was of two or fewer goals. Clearly, this was a colossal mistake from Barcelona.
The adage goes once bitten, twice shy, but it seems that even two doses of venom later, Barça are busy rattling the same snake. Antoine Griezmann’s offensive presence in the team is undeniable. He came off a tremendous individual campaign for the Catalans, scoring 20 goals and assisting a further 12 for his side. At a club like Atletico, these additional 32 goals go a long way in securing a second championship title in quick succession, and in a much more convincing fashion.
With their acquisition of Rodrigo de Paul, the possible transfer of the Frenchman to Los Rojiblancos would be the direct equivalent of shooting themselves in their bruised and battered feet. If Barcelona intends to rid themselves of his wages, then there is a ready market in England and Italy in need of his profile.
One has to ask, how many perfect replicas of the same exact scenario do Barcelona, under three separate boards, have to endure before they learn not to make such trades with direct rivals?
An even thinner forward line
Barcelona’s objectives for this transfer window are clear as daylight; sell, sell, and sell some more. From the forward line, the Blaugrana have already transferred Francisco Trincao to Wolverhampton Wanderers, albeit on a loan deal until the end of the season.
In addition to this, both subsequent to his showings in the European Championships and his club Barcelona over the course of the past season, Martin Braithwaite could equally be on his way out of the club via a transfer to the Premier League.
Naturally, this leaves the forward line thin in two ways. From a purely numerical standpoint, Barcelona’s forward options are nothing worth writing home about.
Ansu Fati is still nursing a meniscus injury suffered last year, Ousmane Dembele is yet again in the medical bay for a further three and a half months, while free agents Lionel Messi, Memphis Depay, and Sergio Aguero aren’t registered with La Liga due to the crushing wage bill. This leaves the total number of available forwards at…one. Just one, the outgoing Danish delight, Braithwaite.
Griezmann is more than just another player in the squad. In this calendar year for the Catalans, only Lionel Messi has contributed more goals. His 32 contributions over the course of the entire campaign deserve the utmost respect. For context, Cristiano Ronaldo contributed just eight more in around the same time. Add to this the injury records of those filling his boots and one can easily see why he is so crucial to the functioning of his sides.
Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay have records worth taking a good look at. With the Dutchman, only an ACL injury in 2019 hampered his game-time in the 2019/20 season, but it is a worthy point of concern for his club.
For the Argentine meanwhile, things are bound to be a lot more complicated. In the previous campaign, he made just 12 appearances in the league, scoring four times and assisting once. In the past two seasons, he has missed a combined total of 238 days of football, or 41 matches, for Manchester City. As for Griezmann, from the start of the 2016/17 season, he has missed just four games through injury for Atletico and France combined — a frankly bizarre statistic.
From a tactical perspective, Barcelona will be playing one of their most narrow forward trios in quite some time. Granted, there are options from the academy in Alex Collado, but in the first team, the collective is bound to suffer. The lack of width, unless of course, Memphis will take ownership of the right-wing in Ansu Fati’s absence, will come back to haunt them.
Whilst it wasn’t his strong suit, Griezmann ensured that he gave his all in the wider areas, both as a classic and inverted winger. The shortage in numbers means that Barcelona will have two disastrous points of overreliance.
First, the Blaugrana will have to bet on the fitness of Sergio Aguero, Ansu Fati, Depay and Messi for at least the first three months of the season. In and of itself, relying on a 33-year-old with just a couple of years left in his tank and a horrendous injury record is one of the last things that Barcelona should contemplate doing, but which they naturally will be forced into.
In addition to this, they run the obvious risk of over-relying on the back three formations. Simply put, a forward line of Messi, Depay and Aguero is one offering little to no natural width. As a consequence, Jordi Alba and one of Emerson Royal or Sergino Dest will have to be the ones to supply it.
The final few matchdays of the season showed that achieving consistency with a shortage of quality players quickly drained the energy of the entire team. Without Griezmann in the team’s dynamics, any possibility of playing a front three, let alone making rotations, diminishes drastically.
The onus will naturally be on Ronald Koeman to look for a solution, one which will probably involve his all so beloved Dutch striker playing further wide for the sake of the team, or a return to the infamous 3-5-2 (and its variants), neither of which is sustainable.
Looming defensive vulnerability
At a club like Barcelona, the system cannot function adequately without a defensive presence from the entire forward line. This does not translate to the forwards needing to retreat to the defence and make goalline clearances on every matchday, but that immediately once the ball is lost, the forwards should be the first to initiate the press. Every iteration of the Blaugrana to have strayed from this ideal was punished severely for its inaction.
Over the past few years, the Catalans have had to deal with an alarming lack of pressing by Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Against lower-rated opposition, the lack of defensive output matters not. The remaining blocks would easily compensate for this with shifts of their own.
Against tougher opposition, take the Champions League quarterfinal annihilation to Bayern Munich, both legs in the semifinal when Barca were pitted against Liverpool, or last season’s first leg versus Paris Saint Germain, such laxity in defending served nothing but to harm the team.
Griezmann’s presence, while incapable of completely cancelling out such flaws, did an excellent job at mitigating the effects. In the 2019/20 season, for instance, he took fewer shots on goal at Barcelona and gave fewer key passes than he did at Atletico a year prior, and this is because he stayed further back to atone for the defensive inaction of his partners in the attack.
In doing this, while the overall system was still immensely flawed structurally, his presence gave it some form of a balance. In his absence, Barcelona are set to walk right back into the same problems they suffered from a little over two years ago.
Bereft of Griezmann to tidy up for Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi and possibly Memphis Depay unless he is handled differently, then the midfield and defence will be taxed a great deal by the nonchalance of their forwards.
A team already lacking in natural width from true wingers (at least for the first initial matchdays of the campaign), which ideally should take no more than one player who isn’t pressing with his heart on his sleeve, will probably have to deal with three such players concurrently, and in a defensively frail setup no less.
The reasoning behind Antoine Griezmann’s possible transfer back to Atletico de Madrid are comprehensible at face value but has multifaceted repercussions on Barcelona whether they like it or not. Losing Griezmann gives their rivals, both direct and indirect, the edge in a plethora of ways.
In the league, they will be supplementing their immediate rivals and defending champions Atletico with further ammunition to their overperforming attack. In regards to the team itself, Barcelona will lose a presence as important offensively as it was to the team’s defence. His 32 goal contributions and clutch performances will not easily be replicated, and neither will his insane otherworldly defensive output.
There are better and less costly decisions the club can make that can achieve much more desirable outcomes for all involved. Laporta just has to think of them.