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Antoine Griezmann is all about combinations. Of cultures, and with other players. Born in France to an Alsatian father and Portuguese mother, he got his professional start at Real Sociedad in Spain’s Basque region where French and Spanish influences marry.
He started as a left winger and has since played as a #10, a second striker, a poacher on the shoulder of the last defender. To define him as any one is to do the player a disservice.
Griezmann is in his fourth year with Atletico Madrid, having joined after their La Liga-winning 2013-14 season. He boasts an impressive strike rate of just over one-in-two, has won the Supercopa de España and has reached two Champions League finals, losing both. Despite the relative lack of titles, the move has been a success. Diego Simeone has brought the best out of a player who would be easy to misuse, most often pairing him with a strike partner and laying incredibly solid foundations around Griezmann and the other flair players to allow them to thrive.
With Diego Costa’s imminent return to the Atletico side, it will be absolutely fascinating to see how the pair combine in a partnership that looks, on paper like it should cause absolute havoc. Costa the aggressive, sociopathic bully ready to drive defenders bonkers, Griezmann the impish magician, darting around him into the spaces the opposition barely register.
There’s a chance that this combination may prove so fruitful that it keeps Griezmann at Atleti for some time. Stranger things have happened. But one does get the sense that however comfortable and happy the Frenchman is at the Wanda Metropolitano, this season will likely be his last.
Manchester United’s interest last summer was very real. Griezmann’s choice to stay at Atleti once their transfer ban was imposed was – on the face of it – an admirable one, but chances are that it came with a gentleman’s agreement that he could move on a year later.
Although Griezmann and Pogba are good friends (are there any French or Belgian players with whom Pogba is not good friends?) whether United will come back for him is debatable. Having spent 80-odd million on Lukaku, the #9 position is unavailable, and Mourinho does not play two strikers. Would Griezmann revert back to playing wide? Even if so, the presence of Rashford and Martial complicates matters. As a #10? Perhaps. Griezmann floating in the gap between Matic and Pogba behind him and Lukaku ahead is a tantalizing prospect. But Mourinho tends to prefer his #10s to be more defensive, more a part of the midfield than a second striker. Before Lukaku, Griezmann’s role in United’s team was obvious. Now, it is less so, especially when you consider that both Pogba and Griezmann have their own signature dance moves. How many can a team take?
Where else then might he go? Links with Barcelona and Real Madrid have never really gone away, but having spent so much on Dembele, Barcelona’s interest surely now depends on whether Messi renews his deal. If so, it’s hard to see space for Griezmann. Should Messi leave to sign a trillion dollar deal with Manchester City, Paris St. Germain or just the state of Qatar, the gap is obvious.
Real Madrid, though a harder move politically, might work. With Perez and Zidane allegedly having given up on Gareth Bale’s legs, Ronaldo’s form actually declining this time, and Benzema still polarizing opinion, it doesn’t feel like we are far off seeing sweeping changes to Real’s forward line. The stumbling blocks here are that Ronaldo will not be vacating his position yet, Zidane is rightly enamoured with Isco and Asensio already deserves to start more than he does. Working out how to format a new-look attack would be doable, but tricky and reliant on the ability to move Benzema and Bale on as quickly as possible.
Of the other English clubs, Chelsea should be interested as Griezmann would fit well into one of the roles behind Morata in their counter-attacking 3-4-3 or 3-5-2. He is an obvious upgrade on Pedro and Willian. The chief issue here is that Conte’s future with the club is very much in doubt, therefore so are their system, style of play and transfer targets. Although Chelsea did sign Hazard several years ago during a period in which they did not have a manager, a transfer of the size necessary to take Griezmann anywhere will have to be negotiated well in advance, and the club might find that a touch difficult at the moment.
Last and possibly least, Arsenal (PSG are ruled out on the basis that Cavani, Neymar and Mbappe will be unmovable for some time). You might laugh. That might be fair. But let’s explore it anyway with the caveat that it would likely rely on them getting back into the Champions League.
With Sanchez and Ozil moving on, be it in January or May, Arsenal have two huge spots to fill and a huge chunk of their wage bill back in their pockets. They’ll need creativity, goals and stardust, and Griezmann can provide them all. From his time with France he already has a strong relationship with Giroud and more importantly Lacazette – the two would have been partnered at Atleti this season if their transfer ban had not upended the former Lyon striker’s move to Madrid last summer – he would remain the biggest fish in the pond, Arsene Wenger bizarrely still has the ability to convince players to join his side and Griezmann would pretty much get a free role. Whether as the #10 in a 4-2-3-1 or one of the two players either side of Lacazette in a 3-4-3, the man would have the freedom of the Emirates, for whatever it’s worth.
I wish linking him with Italian sides were realistic. Serie A was fantastic last season and is even better this time around. Napoli are one of the best footballing teams in Europe and it would be a joy to see Griezmann involved, but financially it’s implausible. Juventus, were they to sell Dybala, might just be an option but the lack of any credible link or public interest in the past suggests this is unlikely.
Wherever he may end up, or whether he stays with Atleti to batter down defenses alongside Diego Costa, Griezmann will remain one of Europe’s most exciting players for a few years to come.