Guest Author: Sarthak Mazumder
It is the 14th of June in 2018, and Barcelona and Atletico Madrid fans are refreshing their social media feeds to see if the video has released yet.
Barcelona have finished the previous season with a domestic double and a humiliating elimination against AS Roma in the UEFA Champions League. The elimination provoked the then-Barça board, led by the infamous Josep Bartomeu to conclude that the team needs attacking reinforcements. With the revenue hitting almost a billion Euros, the transfer budget was unsurprisingly very high.
They opted to go for a high-profile attacker, and Antoine Griezmann was at the top of their list. However, the video documentary by Griezmann broke the hearts of many as he opted to stay at Atletico for the upcoming season. However, the season went entirely in favour of Barça, with the Catalans seeming poised to complete the historic treble for the third time. But faltering towards the end of the season ensured that Lionel Messi would have to remain contempt with the La Liga title only.
The elimination at the hands of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool meant that Barcelona needed a serious change in the wind, and another serious effort at signing the 29-year-old Griezmann were made. After several controversies surrounding the release clause, Barça finally announced the signing of Antoine Griezmann on the 12th of July, 2019. The signing cost Barça around €120 million, making the Frenchman second-costliest in Barça history after Philippe Coutinho, who has failed to make an impression yet.
The start of the Barça chapter was far from poor for Griezmann, making fans optimistic. But just like all other recent happiness, this was short-lived too. Griezmann’s form started taking a dip, and he ended the season averaging just 0.3 goals per game.
There were already rumours of the Blaugrana opting to sell him after just one season at the club owing to the COVID-19 crisis and also due to the poor display the Frenchman put up in the first season. Ronald Koeman, however, decided against the sale, instead of sacrificing a few of the old legs of the team.
After initially deploying him wide, the Dutchman opted to play Griezmann in his preferred central position in the hope that he will overcome his underperformance woes. Though it might be a bit soon to tell, Griezmann has fallen behind in the pecking order, and there is a high chance that the former Atletico superstar will likely be offloaded in the summer.
The presidential election is scheduled to be held on 24th of January, and the new board may not be able to pull out any transfers in the last week of the window. But, the summer window may be the time for the new President to show that he means business.
With either of Joan Laporte and Victor Font expected to form the new board at Barça, it is likely that Griezmann may not see another season at the club. Disposing of the World Cup winner will be a humongous task owing to his massive price tag and salary. But leaving for some other club with a little less expectation will work out for the best for both FC Barcelona and Griezmann.
Despite some extremely contrasting reports recently, Barça Universal takes a look at three clubs where Antoine Griezmann can revive his career.
Out of the Red: Manchester United
Manchester United were actively trying to sign Antoine Griezmann ever since his breakthrough season in 2016. A move was on the brink of completion that year, after which the Atletico forward signed a contract extension.
Being one of the richest European clubs, it will not be complicated for them to bear his transfer fee and huge salary. With reports suggesting that Jadon Sancho may not be able to make his move to the Red Devils in the summer window, there is a chance that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have to opt for some other creative reinforcements.
If Barça are willing to cut down their asking price to something that suits the Manchester outfit, there is a possibility of Griezmann making his move to the Theatre of Dreams. However, the Man United gaffer will probably opt for a younger version as Griezmann is already past the prime years.
But, will the move be actually beneficial for both parties? Solskjaer plays with a 4-2-3-1 formation which can accommodate the creative no.10 role that Griezmann prefers. But a certain Portuguese sensation, Bruno Fernandes, is causing havoc in the position and it is improbable that he will be replaced by the Frenchman. Griezmann can, however, play in the striker role in this formation but his performances as a striker in the Barça shirt only flattered to deceive.
Transfer Approval Rating: 5/10
The Jack of All Trades: Paris Saint-Germain
The transfer market suffered inflation ever since Paris Saint-Germain shelled out a whopping $222mill to bring in Neymar. It is no doubt that PSG can easily afford the Frenchman and the new boss Mauricio Pochettino will give a confirmed spot in the starting 11 to Griezmann, especially owing to his preference for the 4-2-3-1, unlike Thomas Tuchel‘s constantly changing structure.
Griezmann will be able to team up with a few of his national team colleagues, as well, and also enjoy his playing time in his home country. Kylian Mbappe is not expected to make the switch to Real Madrid in the summer of 2021 and this will make sure that the Parisians form a formidable 11 with the likes of Neymar, Mauro Icardi, Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, and Griezmann. His may cause hindrance in this case, as well, as no club will like to spend much on a 29-year-old.
It is still not certain how Pochetino will be lining up his eleven. But one thing is for sure that PSG relies heavily on the creativity of Neymar and Di Maria. Neymar’s stint at the club is hugely stained with injuries. Di Maria being well past his theoretical prime, it will not be a bad choice for the club with such wealthy owners to go for a player like Griezmann.
Transfer Approval Rating: 6/10
The More Obvious One: Inter Milan
Inter Milan may not be one of the richest clubs but missing out on Champions League Round of 16 for the last few seasons will definitely bring thoughts to reinforcements. If Inter can sell a few of their own players who have hardly contributed much to the team, signing Griezmann can become possible. Inter’s performance in the Serie A indicates that a few major signings can make the team challenge at the very top of European football. In fact, they already look to be on the correct path.
Antonio Conte may be still looking for the ideal 11 but his team is blessed with two absolutely prolific strikers in the form of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. Inter has failed in the past few European games solely due to the lack of creating chances. The likes of Christian Eriksen and Alexis Sanchez have failed to break down defences with their creative play and thus the strikers are left without any real opportunities to seal off games.
Griezmann can definitely create chances for the strikers up front in a 3-4-1-2, and also easily slot in with the defensive gameplay, favoured by Conte. We may be able to see the reincarceration of the Atletico Griezmann, who was a huge threat to any team they faced.
Transfer Approval Rating: 7/10
The Copa del Rey could be Barcelona’s only saving grace this season
With the league out of sight, and the Champions League a distant dream, the Copa del Rey could be the saving grace Barcelona are looking for this season.
As much as it wrenches a Culés‘ heart to see the club they once witnessed conquer Europe with all it’s might now look like a pale shadow of its former self, it’s also vital to come to terms with the fact that Barça are still in the process of recovery, patching their wounds while attempting to rediscover its former glory.
Winning the Champions League and La Liga will invariably be the main motive at a club as big as Barcelona. Still, for once, the chances of contending with Europe’s elite seems immensely slim, especially with the continuous spells of inconsistencies the Azulgranas have endured this season.
Woefully, the club have also made it a customary practice to flounder against relatively bigger oppositions, cracking under pressure in amateur fashion. It’s safe to assume these old habits will once again die hard.
It might be a little too late to kickstart a challenge for the league, as Atletico Madrid do not appear to be showing any signs of slowing down in the league and teams like Bayern Munich and Manchester City are always major forces to reckon with in the Champions League. Not to mention, last year’s finalists – PSG – await Barça in the round of 16, who will undoubtedly be a tough nut to crack over the two legs. Having a shot against established sides in one of the club’s most vulnerable states does not seem plausible in the slightest.
However, despite the chances of winning the two big trophies looking ever so minuscule, the Copa Del Rey stands in solitude, waiting to reconcile with the team that has one way or another always found itself reclaiming this esteemed trophy as it habitually dresses in the Blaugrana colours at the end of the campaign.
Having been knocked out disgracefully in the Spanish Super Cup finals, the Copa del Rey may end up being a crucial source of silverware for the Catalan giants. The prize may not be as notable as the aforementioned competitions, yet it undeniably holds value and possesses the ability to save Barcelona’s turbulent season.
Albeit there’s no guaranteeing the road to success will be a stroll in the park for the Blaugranas, it’s apparent that the situation has been made considerably easier, as the fickle finger of fate blesses Barça’s fortunes with the shocking exits of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Additionally, the fact that Sevilla square up against Valencia and Real Betis lock horns with Real Sociedad implies that two prominent teams will be forced to bid farewell to the competition in the next round, making Barça’s road to the final substantially less complicated.
While the Copa Del Rey’s primary stages are typically utilized to award youngsters and players from the B team opportunities with the first team, Ronald Koeman understandably appears to be opting for his best players in the upcoming round of 16 clash against Rayo Vallecano, who sit at 4th place in the Segunda Division.
Owing to the fact that two of Spain’s biggest teams have already departed the competition indicates that there is simply no margin for error and seeing how even the underdogs cannot be underestimated, Barca must use this as a lesson to showcase their winning mentality, even against sides from the lower divisions.
“It is an important moment of the season, we are doing well away from home. We will put up a strong line-up tomorrow. We know that the Cup is the shortest way to win something.”Ronald Koeman | Pre-game press conference
For a team that has basked in silverware and has reigned supreme on the big stage for years, it’s absolutely quintessential to get back to winning ways. After a season full of turmoil, the Copa Del Rey is the least Barça should salvage. With the context perfect for victory, the acclaimed Spanish Competition could very well be Barça’s saving grace this season, and possibly sow the seeds for success.
Of course, it is too soon to write Barça off in any competition yet, but if there’s one thing the club have proven time and time again, it is that they are still a serious work in progress. That said, the Copa Del Rey would be a respectable achievement for Barcelona during these troubling times. Although it may seem as if it is simply an acceptance of mediocrity, the cup would be a great stepping stone for the future, a chance to not only lift silverware again; but also to get into the habit of winning.