“I’m used to transfer rumours by now,” Antoine Griezmann told reporters after a match in March. “But, to be honest, I’m getting a little bit fed up with them.”
The Atletico Madrid forward has spent most of his 20s in the rumour mill. First, he was the hot prospect at Real Sociedad and was linked with numerous Spanish clubs before settling on a move to Atleti in 2014. Then his performances in the Spanish capital elevated him to superstar status, especially in 2016 when he finished third in the voting for the Ballon d’Or. Suddenly he was one of the VIPs at the annual transfer market soap opera awards.
Yet, at the age of 28, he has still only ever played for two clubs. The amount of times he is mentioned on the back pages of the summer’s newspapers is disproportional to the actual number of transfers he has completed.
That, though, doesn’t mean he wasn’t close to packing up his bags and leaving in the past two summers. In 2017, the Frenchman decided to stay as he felt he couldn’t move on while the club were under a transfer embargo and, therefore, unable to reinvest whatever fee they’d have collected for his sale. “I have stayed mainly because of the ban,” he stated in an interview that summer. “Atletico needed me now more than ever and I felt I had to stay. It would be dirty to leave. I wouldn’t have been myself, or the person that I feel I am today, if I had left this club in that way.”
It wasn’t a long-term commitment, but it did kick the can down the road for a little while. Then came the summer of 2018 and the infamous ‘The Decision’ documentary. Having been continually linked with an exit at the end of the 2017-18 season, and with Barcelona offering him money, prestige, a better platform for winning trophies and the chance to keep his family in Spain, Griezmann seriously considered the offer from Camp Nou and filmed a documentary about his decision-making process.
As it was aired on the night of June 14, not even the Spanish sports newspapers knew what the outcome was going to be. Everything had been kept top secret. Sport websites even had two drafts written up, one for a possible announcement of a transfer and one for his potential commitment to staying at Atletico. In the end, he announced that he was going nowhere and renewed his contract to 2023.
Contracts don’t mean everything, though. On the same day that the No.7 penned a new deal, so too did Lucas Hernandez and the left-back is now with Bayern Munich. There are many who wonder, therefore, if Griezmann’s fresh commitment to the club from last summer had an expiry date of just one year. With his release clause of €200m reportedly dropping to €120m in the summer, he remains affordable, at least compared to the other superstar talents in the game right now. Perhaps more importantly, he is gettable as the release clause system that exists in Spain means a club cannot stop a player from leaving if the exact fee stated in the contract is deposited at the League’s headquarters.
But would he want to go? And where would he go? Barcelona are believed to have gone cold on the forward, while they’re still a little hurt at the rejection of 2018 and the manner in which the player announced his decision. Many Blaugrana fans adopted the ‘well, we didn’t want him anyway’ line after last summer’s documentary, meaning he’d hardly be the most popular arrival at the club.
A cross-city move to Real Madrid could make some footballing sense, but Griezmann is wise enough to know that it wouldn’t be worth it because of the outrage this would spark back at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano. He has seen the way that the likes of Theo Hernandez and Thibaut Courtois have been made public enemies one and two because of their decisions to swap red and white for plain white. Courtois had toy rats thrown at him at a recent derby and his legend plaque outside the ground was covered in beer, spit and paint. Griezmann won’t want to throw his Atleti legacy in the trash like that.
Then there are the options outside of Spain, which he has never been as keen on. A return to France and to Paris Saint-Germain would make more sense than the options of England, Italy and Germany, but the presence of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe mean that the Ligue 1 champions’ attack is already crowded.
There are disadvantages with every possible transfer away from Atleti, at least in the current environment, so the best outcome for Griezmann could be to stay put, especially with Diego Simeone having signed a new contract and having committed his near future to the club.
It’s true that Los Colchoneros were knocked out of the Champions League in the last 16 stage this season, a far earlier exit than a Ballon d’Or candidate like Griezmann would like, but the superstars of Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich suffered the same fate. It also has to be kept in mind that they were massive underdogs in their tie against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus. It wasn’t a surprise or an embarrassment to lose that tie to the Italians. The disappointment stems from the manner in which they blew a two-goal lead.
In La Liga, Atleti remain competitive and have been the closest challengers to Barcelona in each of the past two seasons, much more so than Real Madrid. The problem for Simeone’s side is that Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona have been so ruthless domestically. Atleti are getting better and better, but so too are the Catalan club.
There have been opportunities for Griezmann to win some silverware with his club in the past year. Before 2018, the only trophy he’d ever won in his career was the Spanish Super Cup of 2014, which he collected just after arriving. Nothing followed in the subsequent four years until the Europa League triumph of 2017-18, which the Frenchman was decisive in and which he won in Lyon, near where he grew up.
That was further validated by the UEFA Super Cup victory over Real Madrid in August, while Griezmann, of course, also got his hands on the World Cup in the summer. That World Cup win is more important for Atletico than it may at first seem, as it could sufficiently feed the player’s hunger for glory long enough for him to reject the Goliaths of the footballing world. “I want to win things and have reached a point where nice play and scoring goals isn’t enough,” he said after the Euro 2016 disappointment. By winning in Russia, that itch has been scratched for a while.
So will Griezmann depart the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano in the summer of 2019? Probably not. Given the lack of viable alternative options out there, given the fact that Diego Simeone is staying put, given the medals he has been able to collect in the past year and given the fact that he renewed his Atleti vows just last summer, there are far more reasons for the forward to stay where is than to move. Griezmann still has some chapters to write in his Atletico Madrid story.