Monday 16 September 2019

Antoine Griezmann ends year-long Atletico goodbye as Barcelona adventure awaits

In the documentary La Decisión, Griezmann agonised over his potential exit from Atlético Madrid. Photo: REUTERS/Susana Vera/File Photo
In the documentary La Decisión, Griezmann agonised over his potential exit from Atlético Madrid. Photo: REUTERS/Susana Vera/File Photo

Sid Lowe

The moment of Antoine Griezmann's departure to Barcelona was broadcast live on television, 393 days after the Frenchman announced his decision to turn down Barcelona and stay at Atlético Madrid in a TV documentary.

It had just gone 1pm on Friday when his legal representative arrived at the headquarters of La Liga wheeling a silver suitcase into the building, where he deposited the €120m buy-out clause that releases the striker from his contract, five years after his arrival. Barcelona confirmed the transfer two hours later.

Griezmann's new deal will run for five years and contains a buy-out clause - a legal stipulation in Spain - worth €800m. For all the twists in the plot, the crossed words and accusations, this signing had been set up from the start. It was only going to end one way and if it took longer than expected it was concluded when Griezmann's lawyer, Sevan Karian, arrived at La Liga's HQ - although Atlético say that €120m is not enough, claiming the true value to be €200m.

The clause dropped to €120m at the start of this month but Barcelona had hoped to reach a negotiated settlement rather than be forced to pay up front in one go. Atlético refused, publicly accusing Barcelona and the Frenchman of a lack of respect in a statement that also demanded he report for training last Sunday. This was despite Atlético requesting he record a video announcing his intention to leave on May 14, despite Griezmann not having had his statutory 30 days' holiday and despite their using the money to sign João Félix for €126m, handing him Griezmann's No 7 shirt.

Griezmann will now report for training tomorrow - in Barcelona. Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi will not be there but how well he fits with them will be crucial to his success at the Camp Nou.

It is not entirely clear where he does fit. His natural playing position is the same as Messi's and there have been some suggestions those two would prefer to see Neymar come back from Paris Saint‑Germain.

There has been a sense of unease at Barcelona returning to a player who so publicly rejected them 13 months ago. After the ignominious Champions League defeat at Anfield, though, most of their followers will celebrate this signing. It is one they have chased for a while.

Barcelona first approached Griezmann last year, aware that his buy-out clause would temporarily drop to €100m.

Antoine Griezmann has left Atletico Madrid for Barcelona (Adam Davy/Empics)
Antoine Griezmann has left Atletico Madrid for Barcelona (Adam Davy/Empics)

They were prepared to pay that sum, unilaterally releasing him from his contract, and reached an agreement on personal terms. That left Griezmann's future in his own hands and his deliberations became the focus of a documentary called La Decisión where - in soft focus and stylish shots - he can be seen agonising over what decision to make: stay or go?

Over 30 minutes, the audience is given glimpses of Griezmann contemplating his future, looking pensive at the dinner table, pensive playing basketball, pensive in a plane and pensive on a horse.

"I don't know what to do," he says often but at the end of the film, shown a year ago on Sunday, he finally announces his decision to stay at Atlético. He called Barcelona to apologise: their board did not know the documentary was being made, even though the production company belongs in part to Gerard Piqué, their centre-half.

Griezmann signed an improved deal at Atlético, worth €20m a year after tax, but that was far from definitive: the new contract included a €200m buy-out clause but it would again drop on July 1 - explicitly allowing for an exit, should the player want one, and inviting suitors to line up once more. Once they had the signal, they did just that.

Griezmann may not have regretted renewing, staying for another season, but he soon decided that he did want to depart and so the deal was picked up again, 12 months on, and for €20m more. The same amount Atlético had spent paying him last season.

Ultimately, his season was a disappointing one, which plays its part in his leaving. Atlético had strengthened the team in an attempt to convince him to remain and they again finished ahead of Real Madrid in La Liga, but that was not enough.

Legacy looms large in the documentary, Griezmann acutely aware that any history made at Atlético would be his, while success elsewhere would be shared. But that requires success in the first place and it did not come. He admitted that living in Messi's shadow had been a factor in choosing to stay then, but he has thought again. There is a parallel to Neymar's departure to PSG, the Brazilian's realisation that playing with Messi may cast more light than shadow.

The season was defined above all by the Champions League: the primary focus of the documentary, Atlético's obsession and the competition whose final would be held at their Wanda Metropolitano. That became a target and, by extension, a kind of watershed, too - it is almost as if the Frenchman was convinced, like some kind of crime caper, to do one last job, their biggest yet.

It did not work out and it does not feel like chance that, if Atlético's allegations are to be believed - and his new club will not recognise this - Griezmann had agreed to join Barça in the days after Atlético lost to Juventus in the last 16.

There was still a long way to go and there may be arguments ahead even now, but essentially it was done. On May 14, Griezmann recorded a video on a phone saying he was leaving, but he did not say where he was going. He could not and he did not tell them either, although Atlético claimed they knew.

All that was left to do was wait for the buy-out clause value to drop, the way it had been designed to do. Thirteen days later, cameras caught a man strolling into a building carrying €120m.


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