Antoine Griezmann: The story behind the Atletico Madrid forward’s just 30 minutes a game


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

Less is more, they say, and that certainly seems to apply to the Frenchman who, despite playing only a third of the minutes at his disposal, is the club’s top scorer on three goals alongside Alvaro Morata.

We have to remember how hot Griezmann was when he won the World Cup Atletico signed Barcelona for £108 million On Bastille Day in July 2019. After three years, he is still the sixth most expensive footballer in history.

The problem is that the signing of Griezmann is synonymous with the screaming that has been so strong in the agreements made by the club’s former president, Josep Maria Bartomeu.

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

On July 1 of that year, Griezmann’s buyout clause was reduced from €200 million to €120 million, the forward ending up at Barça 12 days later.

Atletico were not happy, saying “it is obvious that the deal between the player and Barcelona was closed beforehand [buy-out] the clause was reduced’ and to initiate the procedures to receive a higher fee.

Nothing came of it, with Barcelona allegedly telling Atletico at the time to “read the contract”.

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

Many of the club’s top players at the time preferred to see Neymar return to PSG – a deal the Brazilian desperately wanted – and Bartomeu stoked the flames by consistently denying it. Griezmann, although it was clear that an agreement 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 poor start and his ability to hit the ground running was always hampered by the fact that his arrival was a fait accompli and talk of Neymar’s return was nothing but smoke and mirrors.

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

As a prolific professional he was – still is – everything about the ill-fated deal suggested from the start that he would never settle in the Barcelona hierarchy.

And that’s how it turned out, even though it was almost his fault. He was often played out of position, sometimes on the right, sometimes on the left, but he never complained.

In fact, Griezmann would have been more effective used in the same space that Leo Messi occupied, but that place was taken by the best in the world.

When it became rotten and it became clear that Barcelona had to sell players to survive, Griezmann found himself at the top of the list.

It didn’t matter too much, in fact Griezmann couldn’t believe his luck. He loves Atletico as much as everyone at the club and couldn’t wait to get back.

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

The religious sigh, on the part of Barcelona, ​​was deducted from the 38 million euros they paid Griezmann in one fell swoop and he will have to continue paying if he returns to the club. His contract with Barcelona does not expire until June 30, 2024.

Last season, Griezmann played more than 80% of the minutes. Should he play a similar amount this season, his Atletico duty would soon begin.

The solution? Bringing the French striker on after the 60th minute, thus ensuring that his appearances are not for the whole game and that the percentage drops below 50%.

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

Until Sunday’s derby, Griezmann has come on as a substitute in every game. His minutes in these games say it all: 62, 62, 64, 63, 61, 63, 62. The percentage of minutes played on loan was dropping to 70%.

After Porto’s Champions League game, tongue firmly in cheek, Simeone said: “The reality is he’s doing very well playing 30 minutes, we don’t know how he’ll do if he plays 60 minutes.”

Now, at least, everyone knows where they are and Simeone has stopped trying to convince them that the decision to leave the presentation of his most talismanic player until the last half hour is nothing more than a tactical maneuver. “I’m a club man,” said the manager on the matter.

The problem is, despite starting against Real, it’s no surprise that Griezmann is getting more and more comfortable with being used as a pawn in this big money game going on between clubs, but he’s being professional. and when he plays, he does so with the enthusiasm of a child just starting out. Contrary to what some have published, Griezmann never agreed not to play from the start, he follows orders.

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

It is true – and Barcelona knows – that as the contract stands, Atletico are not doing anything wrong and can play Griezmann as often or as little as they want as long as he remains loaned to them. But Atletico need it, they are now eight points off the top.

A recent article in French newspaper L’Equipe suggested that the two clubs are on the verge of agreeing a €25 million deal that would allow Barcelona to remove a potential financial burden and also allow unrestricted access to the Atletico player.

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

This summer Atletico offered 20 million euros to Barcelona to draw a line on this issue. They were so pleased knowing that Barcelona did not want to pay Griezmann’s wages in the near future and also knowing that Barcelona had already considered it – between elaborate asset sales, complicated loan arrangements and downsizing. going to the club – the arrival of these 40 million euros.

Atletico’s offer was rejected and Barcelona were reminded to keep the contract, although the Madrid club would say that’s what they are doing. They can end up regretting the day.

Atletico president Enrique Cerezo summed up the feelings of everyone at the club about Griezmann: “We have not met with Barcelona, ​​nor do we intend to. Griezmann’s story is quite clear.

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

Griezmann is happy to start against Real, but he wants more.

His lawyer is dealing with the situation and although there is no movement at the moment, the Atletico president said that all three parties know that a solution must be found fairly soon.

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

The Barcelona sports newspaper Mundo Deportivo has also made it quite clear that the Atletico player’s ability to do his job is diminishing.

They accept that Atletico are complying with the law because as a player registered with the club and the league, he has the right to effective employment and is only obliged to allow the club to train with the team, not to guarantee a place. starting lineup

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

In 2007-08, Ronald Koeman announced that while in charge at Valencia, David Albelda would not wear the shirt again.

Albelda sued for the restriction of playing rights and lost when the judge ruled that he was still licensed to play and Koeman’s decision not to play was a technicality.

With the World Cup in sight, French coach Didier Deschamps has also commented.

He said that it is unknown to treat a player of Griezmann’s quality in this way, and added: “At least he will be tired”.

“He is still a crucial player at his club, although he clearly wants to play more than 30 minutes a game and it would be great if he could play more minutes with us,” said Deschamps.

But the questions everyone is asking are: how long will he be willing to use Griezmann as a substitute and how long will Simeone be content to use his main card so sparingly?

Once we know that, we will probably be much closer to a solution.