After teasing and then finally confirming his decision to snub Barcelona’s interest in a self-indulgent documentary entitled The Decision last year, Antoine Griezmann has now confirmed he will leave Atletico Madrid this summer.
And it seems Barcelona – if reluctantly – will now get their man. Griezmann has a £108m release clause in the contract he penned at the Wanda Metropolitano last summer, and the La Liga champions are reportedly ready to trigger it.
For their money, Barça will be acquiring a forward of the highest calibre; a World Cup winner who has twice appeared on the Ballon d’Or podium.
Despite this, there are enough caveats and complications around Barcelona’s move for Griezmann to suggest that they are taking a sizeable gamble on the Atletico star.
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Firstly, Griezmann’s expected arrival at the Camp Nou presents a tactical quandary for manager Ernesto Valverde. The former Real Sociedad man is a creative, left-footed attacker; a clinical finisher and a threat from range. He is at his best with the freedom to operate behind a No.9, moving centrally from the right.
Does that sound familiar?
Fitting Griezmann and Lionel Messi into the same team without diminishing either’s influence is a puzzle with no obvious solution.
Griezmann is used to playing as a second striker behind a conventional centre-forward at Atleti. Barça have regularly used a 4-4-2 set-up under Valverde but the free role behind Luis Suarez, of course, belongs to Messi.
Barcelona’s traditional 4-3-3 formation offers no obvious home for Griezmann, either. Although a rapid left-winger in his nascent days in San Sebastian, Griezmann has since established himself as an elite striker. A move back out to the left would inhibit his well-honed scoring instincts.
He has, at times, featured on the right of a front three for both Atletico and France, but has never been as effective there as through the middle. Besides, when Barça deploy a 4-3-3, the role of cutting inside from a starting berth on the right is Messi’s.
Which leaves the option of having Griezmann replace Suarez as the No.9. But a position at the point of attack is also one he is unaccustomed to, having thrived with the reference point like Diego Costa or Alvaro Morata ahead of him.
There is also the issue of how much Griezmann will cost. Even for Barcelona, who rank second in the latest Deloitte Football Money League, £108m is a huge sum to spend on a player turning 29 next season. The salary he will command – even if it's less than his current Atleti deal – will heap further strain on Barça’s bloated wage bill.
Others will have to make way for the Frenchman. Philippe Coutinho and Malcom are the valuable stars Barcelona will likely move on this summer, while either Suarez or Ousmane Dembele face losing their starting place to the 2018 World Cup winner.
Given the financial and tactical difficulties that their pursuit or Griezmann presents, Barça might be better served switching their attention to a different type of forward.
Luka Jovic, for example, is an obvious candidate. The Serbian striker, who has spent the last two seasons on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt from Benfica, would be the ideal long-term replacement for Suarez up front. He’d cost little more than half as much as Griezmann, meaning there’d be ample funds left to complete their long-mooted move for Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt.
Despite these concerns, though, Griezmann’s signing would have a huge potential upside for Barça.
If Valverde can find a system which integrates Griezmann without hampering Messi, the Atletico talisman’s impact could be transformative. The best solution might be to craft an inside-forward role similar to that which David Villa thrived in at the Camp Nou, with Messi returning to false nine duties at Suarez’s expense.
As Messi has aged — he turns 32 this summer — Barcelona have asked more and more of their precious genius; he has either scored or created 54% of Barça’s league goals this season. So heavy is the creative and scoring burden he carries that the magnificent Argentine can't afford to have off days, or else Barça pay with their place in a major competition – as was the case in recent Champions League collective capitulations against Liverpool and Roma.
While a Jovic type would only be able to help reduce the scoring reliance on Messi, Griezmann would chip in creatively, too, further weaponising Barça’s attack for those rare occasions when Messi can’t do everything alone.
In Griezmann, Barcelona are gambling big on a major short-term boost; one who could be the difference between triumph and collapse in the latter stages of the Champions League. With the tactical Tetris required to make it work, though, the pay-off is far from guaranteed.
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