Antoine Griezmann: The story behind why Atletico Madrid forward only plays 30 minutes per game

Guillem Balague's BBC Sport column

According to his boss Diego Simeone, Atletico Madrid play better with Antoine Griezmann in their line-up. So why – apart from last weekend’s derby against Real Madrid – has he been used this season only as a substitute for the last half hour of all games?

Less is more, they say, and that would certainly seem to apply to the Frenchman who, despite only playing around a third of the minutes available to him, is the club’s top scorer with Alvaro Morata on three goals.

We have to remember what an asset World Cup winner Griezmann was when he signed for Barcelona from Atletico for £108million on July 14, 2019. Three years later, he is still the sixth most expensive footballer in history.

The problem is that signing Griezmann is synonymous with the acrimony that figured so heavily in the deals struck by the club’s former president, Josep Maria Bartomeu.

The deal was mired in controversy which continued even after the player arrived at Barcelona.

On July 1 that year, Griezmann’s release clause was increased from €200m to €120m, with the striker completing his move to Barca 12 days later.

Atletico were not happy, saying “it is obvious that the agreement between the player and Barcelona was concluded before the [buy-out] the clause has been reduced” and initiated proceedings to benefit from the higher royalty.

Nothing came of it as Barcelona presumably told Atletico back then to ‘read the contract’.

Barcelona can’t be too surprised that Atletico are now telling them to do the same.

Many of the club’s key players at the time would have preferred to see Neymar return from PSG – a deal the Brazilian was very supportive of – and Bartomeu fanned the flames by continually denying there was a deal in place to bring. . Griezmann, although it was clear that a deal was in place.

Arturo Vidal (left), Antoine Griezmann (center left), Luis Suarez (center right) and Lionel Messi (right)
Griezmann (second left) joined Barcelona from Atletico Madrid on a five-year contract in 2019

It was a bad start and was always going to hamper his ability to hit the ground running when it became clear his arrival was a done deal and any talk of Neymar’s return had been smoke and mirrors .

The likes of Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez will never need an excuse to get irritated with everything about Griezmann, from his sense of humor to his childish way of celebrating goals.

The consummate professional as he was – he still is – everything about the ill-fated deal suggested from the start that he was never going to settle down in the Barcelona hierarchy.

And so it turned out, although it was not his fault. He was often played out of position, sometimes right, other times left, but never complained.

In fact, Griezmann would have been more effectively used in the same space occupied by Leo Messi, but that spot has been taken by the best in the world.

When the rot set in and it became clear that Barcelona needed to sell players to survive, Griezmann found himself at the top of the list.

Not that he cared too much, in fact Griezmann couldn’t believe his luck. He loves Atletico as much as everyone at the club does and he couldn’t wait to come back.

A two-year loan deal was agreed between the two clubs which stipulated that if Griezmann played more than 45 minutes in more than 50% of games, Atletico would be contractually obligated to pay Barcelona €40m to sign him. definitively.

Sighs of relief to all, especially from Barcelona who suddenly got rid of the 38 million euros per year they paid Griezmann and will have to continue paying him if he returns to the club. His contract with Barcelona only expires on June 30, 2024.

Last season, Griezmann played over 80% of the minutes. Should he play a similar amount this season, Atletico’s obligation would kick in very soon.

The solution? For the French striker to come on from the 60th minute, ensuring that his appearances do not count as a full game and the percentage drops below 50%.

Antoine Griezmann (center)
Griezmann (centre) is Atletico’s joint-top scorer so far this season alongside Alvaro Morata with three goals, despite only playing around a third of the minutes available to him.

Until Sunday’s derby, Griezmann has been a substitute in every game. The minute of his introduction in these games explains everything – 62, 62, 64, 63, 61, 63, 62. The percentage of minutes played during the loan deal was reduced towards the 70% mark.

After Porto’s Champions League game, with his tongue very firmly pressed to his cheek, Simeone said: “The reality is that he is doing very well playing 30 minutes, we don’t know how he will do if he does. play 60.”

Now at least everyone knows where they stand and Simeone has given up trying to persuade us that his decision to leave the introduction of his most talismanic player until the last half hour is nothing but a tactical maneuver. “I’m a club man,” the manager said on the matter.

The problem is that, despite his debut against Real, Griezmann isn’t surprisingly growing disappointed to be used as a financial pawn in this high-stakes ‘Mexican showdown’ unfolding between the clubs, but he is a professional. on this subject. and when he plays, he does so with the enthusiasm of a kid just starting out. Against what some have posted, Griezmann never agreed not to play from the start, he’s just following orders.

Things now appear to be starting to come to a head and last week Barcelona threatened legal action, via friendly members of the media, by suggesting what Atletico were doing was illegal.

The truth is – and Barcelona know it – that in the current state of the contract, Atletico are doing nothing wrong and as long as they have them on loan they can play against Griezmann as often or as rarely as they want. . But Atletico need him, they are now eight points from the top.

A recent report by French newspaper L’Equipe suggested that the two clubs are close to agreeing a €25m deal which would see Barcelona off the potential financial burden and also allow the Atletico to have unlimited access to the player.

Atletico deny being close to a deal, while Barcelona are a bit more optimistic.

This summer, Atletico offered Barcelona 20 million euros to put an end to this affair. They were so comfortable knowing that Barcelona did not want to pay Griezmann’s salary at any time in the near future and also because they knew that Barcelona had already taken into account – among elaborate asset sales, agreements convoluted loan and figures that have been going to the club – the arrival of these 40 million euros.

Atletico’s offer was rejected out of hand and Barcelona reminded them that they had to stick to the contract, even though the Madrid club would claim that is precisely what they are doing. They might end up regretting the day.

Atletico president Enrique Cerezo summed up the feelings of everyone at the club on Griezmann: “We haven’t met Barcelona and we don’t intend to. Griezmann’s story is quite clear.

“At the moment we are at the same point, nothing has changed with the FCB [Barcelona] on Griezmann – like at the start of the season.”

Griezmann is happy to have started against Real but wants more.

His lawyer is dealing with the situation and although there is no move at the moment, as the Atletico president said, all three parties know that a solution needs to be found quite quickly.

Are Atletico limiting Antoine Griezmann’s ability to do his job?

Even Mundo Deportivo, the Barcelona-based sports newspaper, made it clear that Atletico were restricting the player’s ability to do his job.

They admit that Atletico are following the law because, as a player registered with the club and the league, he is entitled to effective employment and the club is only obliged to let him train with the group, no guarantee him a place in the starting line-up.

There is a legal precedent that bolsters Atletico’s case.

In 2007-08, Ronald Koeman announced that while he was in charge at Valencia, David Albelda would no longer wear the shirt.

Albelda sued, citing the restriction of his playing rights and lost when the court ruled he still had his license to play and Koeman’s decision not to play him was purely technical.

With a World Cup on the horizon, France coach Didier Deschamps also commented.

He said it was unheard of for a player of Griezmann’s quality to be treated this way, adding: “He will at least be less tired.”

“He continues to be a decisive player with his club although he clearly aspires to play more than 30 minutes per game and it could well be great for him to play more minutes with us,” Deschamps said.

But the questions everyone is asking are how long Griezmann will be willing to put up with simply being used as a substitute and how long will Simeone be content with having to settle for using his major asset? so sparingly?

When we know that, we’ll probably be much closer to a solution.

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