They missed out on him in 2018, they got him in 2019, and in 2020 it looks like they already want to sell.
Barcelona and Antoine Griezmann have had a pretty rocky ride together over the last few years, and despite so much speculation and anticipation, everyone involved will now be left questioning if any of this was worth it.
A report yesterday from Sport claimed Griezmann already looks to be heading for the Nou Camp exit door, following an underwhelming eight goals and four assists in 26 La Liga games, and just two goals in the Champions League.
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It’s plain to see from Barcelona’s signings in recent times that they’ve moved away from the model that brought so much success in the Pep Guardiola era; in 2012 they fielded an entire XI of La Masia academy graduates for the first time in a La Liga game, but in recent years they’ve become a team of superstars and big-money signings, almost indistinguishable from their rivals Real Madrid with their history of collecting Galacticos.
This has by no means been entirely bad for the Catalan giants, who remain reigning champions of Spain, but that lack of cohesion, character and identity that made them so formidable under Guardiola just isn’t there any longer, hurting them against the better sides in the Champions League in particular. Griezmann has, unfortunately for him, perhaps become a perfect symbol for the limits of that approach.
With Neymar leaving for PSG in 2017, Barca’s pride will have been hurt, and a new superstar sought. Widely regarded as the best player outside of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in La Liga, Griezmann made perfect sense as the man to target.
And yet, despite so much speculation for so long, summer 2018 ended with Griezmann’s bizarre and infamous “The Decision” documentary, in which he took painfully long to explain to everyone why he was in fact going to stay at Atletico Madrid.
Having rejected Barcelona in this slightly humiliating manner, it’s certainly surreal that the club went back in for him just a year later, even picking up a small fine from La Liga for their troubles.
Despite being the main man at Atletico, Griezmann has been unable to make that kind of impact under both Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien. Speaking to CaughtOffside, Spanish football expert Colin Millar of Football Espana says: “Tactically he isn’t a great fit – he was at Atletico, where he was vital and is badly missed. It’s not the same at Barcelona. That doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t be successful there, but it limits his abilities and I don’t think we’ll ever see the best version of him at the club.”
That kind of statement is much more the kind of thing we associate with the post-Ferguson Manchester United, who recruited the likes of Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez at great cost but without much of a plan – just five years ago few could have imagined we’d be saying the same thing about Barcelona.
But it’s not just on the pitch where Griezmann has come up short, with his personality perhaps not ideally suited to the fitting in with the big names in the team.
Millar isn’t entirely convinced by the rumours, but says: “There is a lot of talk he has bad relationships with Barcelona teammates … inevitably Lionel Messi is a name constantly mentioned in this regard, although this is massively overstated, if indeed there is even a degree of truth in it.
“A lot of it is driven by the Neymar return saga, will he or won’t he. Neymar had an excellent relationship with Messi and Luis Suarez, not just on the pitch but off it – very close friends.”
It has been suggested that Griezmann is a little more introverted, and he wasn’t helped by the fact that Neymar was also linked with a return to the Nou Camp last summer before he rocked up instead. CaughtOffside understands several players in the Barca squad were keenly following the Neymar saga and excited for his return, only to be left bitterly disappointed when the deal fell through. It was reported by Sport, as translated by the Daily Record, that the Brazilian had been in touch with his old team-mates on WhatsApp, ensuring them he would return. The Times even claimed he had accepted a pay cut after agreeing terms with the club, such was his desperation to come back.
By contrast, Griezmann always looked a Plan B option, and, owing to his ‘The Decision’ video, someone who was not nearly as enthusiastic about being there either. It’s little surprise Barca fans have not particularly warmed to him, and that that has affected the way the rest of the squad have reacted to him too.
Clement Lenglet suggested as much back in November when, as quoted by the Mirror, he suggested Griezmann has been playing better for France because he’s happier when he’s with his national team.
“When he’s with the national team, he’s having a lot of fun,” the defender said. “He’s been there for a long time, he played a few big tournaments with the team, and he won a really beautiful one. Of course, he knows this place very well, he’s very happy to be here, he has a strong history with the team.”
The injury to Luis Suarez should have presented an opportunity to Griezmann, who did, admittedly, look a bit better when moved into a more central position.
The outbreak of coronavirus disrupting the season means we now may never find out what the 29-year-old could have done with a longer run of games in that role, and the latest rumours that he’s now on the transfer list certainly seem to suggest he’s had all the chances he’s going to get. Even in normal circumstances, however, this whole strange saga looks very much like a mistake that could have been avoided, with plenty of opportunities to do so, and it’s a sad end for both a top club and a top player who have both lost their way a little bit.