Everyone knew that Antoine Griezmann would leave Atlético Madrid this summer.
It was clear as soon as he made his long-winded, self-indulgent ‘decisión’ last summer that he would only stay for one more year, particularly as it became apparent that his release clause would drop from a prohibitive €200m to an achievable €120m on July 1 2019.
What was unexpected, though, was the acrimonious nature of his departure.
All appeared well on May 14 when the Frenchman announced he would be leaving, thanking the club for five “incredible” years and insisting he would “carry the club in his heart”.
It looked as though he would leave with Atleti’s blessing, and from the club’s point of view the €120m would come in very handy at a time when the squad is entering a period of renewal.
It had been a very successful partnership for both player and club. Griezmann made his name at Atleti after his €30m move from Real Sociedad in 2014, and under the tutelage of Diego Simeone became one of the world’s top footballers. He scored 133 goals in 257 games for the club, winning the Europa League and reaching the Champions League final, and picked up a World Cup winner’s medal during his time at the club.
He is the skilful outlet in an industrious team, a shiny coat of paint on a whirring machine, and his role as the creative spark behind the striker has been crucial to the success of the rojiblancos in the Simeone era.
His departure had amicable written all over it.
But then it all went sour. Atlético released an inflammatory statement last week, accusing Barcelona of having negotiated a deal with Griezmann back in March without the permission of the club.
It is generally understood that Barcelona would be the likely destination for Griezmann, and it would be surprising if Griezmann’s representatives hadn’t spoken to Barça behind his club’s back, given the rise in player and agent power in the modern game.
Atleti probably knew it was happening as well. Their accusatory statement was most likely intended as a means of ensuring Barcelona pay the release clause on time and in full, as there had been reports that the Catalan side wanted to pay in instalments rather than fork out all the cash at once.
The only problem was, they couldn’t point the finger at Barça without also implicating Griezmann, and their statement contained a message to their player insisting he report for training on Sunday in compliance with his contract.
Griezmann unsurprisingly didn’t show up, and Atlético have begun disciplinary proceedings against him in response.
Atleti’s indignation with Griezmann seems pretty disingenuous when just a day before the statement was released, they bestowed the Frenchman’s number seven shirt on their new signing João Félix. And they wouldn’t have signed Félix in the first place if they weren’t selling Griezmann.
They would have been banking on receiving the €120m for Griezmann in full, otherwise they wouldn’t have splashed out €126m on Félix. It’s pretty clear that Atleti’s outburst isn’t a delayed fit of pique, but a demand for payment for their prized asset.
It appears there are only two ways to move forward.
Firstly, and most likely, Barcelona pay the fee, Griezmann gets his move, Atleti get their money and everyone is happy.
Alternatively, Barça backtrack and try to pull out of the deal, and Griezmann faces an awkward reintegration into the Atleti squad. This is unlikely but not impossible, particularly as a return to Barcelona for Neymar is becoming more and more plausible.
That will all become clear in the coming weeks. However it plays out, it’s clear that what should have been the cleanest of breaks has rapidly descended into a messy and undignified saga for all involved.