Barcelona announced the signing of Antoine Griezmann yesterday for 120mn euros ($135mn), sparking a furious reaction from Atletico Madrid over the amount the La Liga champions paid for the World Cup winner.
In a statement, Barca revealed that they had paid the 120mn euros to activate the Frenchman’s release clause, adding that he would sign a five-year deal that included a “buyout clause of 800mn euros”. However, within minutes Atletico said they believed “the amount paid is insufficient to meet the release clause as it is obvious that the agreement between the player and Barcelona had been concluded before the release clause dropped from 200mn euros to 120mn euros” at the start of the month.
They said that Griezmann had gone to the headquarters of Spanish Football League (LFP) to “unilaterally” break his contract after Barca met the release clause, and added that they had already “begun appropriate procedures” to defend their “rights and legitimate interests”. The announcement was the latest episode in a spat between the two clubs and Griezmann after the 28-year-old failed to show up for Atletico’s pre-season gathering on Sunday following his announcement in May that he would be leaving for an unnamed destination — long-suspected to be Barcelona.
Last week Atletico accused Barcelona and Griezmann of a “lack of respect” after Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu revealed the two clubs had held talks about the former Real Sociedad forward. Atletico then claimed that Griezmann had told the club that he had struck a deal with Barcelona in March, just days before the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Juventus, which saw them dumped out by a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick after winning the first leg 2-0 in Madrid.
Griezmann joined Atletico in 2014 and has scored 133 goals in 257 appearances, lifting the Europa League in 2018. He won the Golden Boot at Euro 2016 when France were beaten in the final on home soil by Portugal before helping to guide his country to World Cup glory in Russia last year.
The sale of Griezmann comes after Atletico stumped up a whopping 126mn euros to sign rising star Joao Felix from Benfica last week, making the 19-year-old one of the five most expensive players in history. The fee was a record paid by the capital club and the highest ever received by a Portuguese outfit, and the sale of Griezmann helps finance such a huge transfer for a young player.
Felix burst onto the scene last season, scoring 20 times and making 11 assists in all competitions for Benfica as they won the Primeira Liga and reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
Yesterday, Atletico also unveiled Felix’s former Benfica teammate Ivan Saponjic. The 20-year-old Serbian forward has signed a three-year deal with the Spanish club.
At 28, Griezmann now faces the biggest challenge of his career,  having still not a single league title. In that way, Barcelona, who have won La Liga eight times in the last 11 seasons, are something of a sure bet, so much so that finishing top of the table is no longer a barometer for success.
Instead, their Champions League humiliation by Liverpool might have been persuasive in going again for a player who not only rejected them last year but embarrassed them, his decision revealed at the end of a television documentary. “My fans, my team, my home: Atletico Madrid,” Griezmann said then. Bartomeu, Barcelona’s president, might have been able to forgive but the last few months would suggest others will need convincing.
When Atletico played at the Camp Nou in April, Griezmann was whistled by some Barcelona fans. When he went to take a corner, the chant came: “Griezmann, get out of the Camp Nou.”
The players were asked too, their responses coming back curt and irritable. “I have no opinion,” said Lionel Messi. Gerard Pique, who was involved in the production of Griezmann’s documentary, was asked if he would take part in another this summer. “No, I won’t,” he said. “One was enough.”
Grudges can be quickly forgotten in football, by teammates particularly, and when performances are good, by supporters too. But it could also swing the other way if he suffers a slow start. The risk for Barcelona is small.
Coach Ernesto Valverde needs to reduce his reliance on Messi and Luis Suarez for goals, particularly in the Champions League, where Suarez remains inexplicably inefficient. Griezmann scored 94 in 180 league games for Atletico after joining from Real Sociedad in 2014 and could expect his numbers to soar in a team where chances are more frequent and defensive duties less demanding. He is hungry too, not just for silverware but recognition, his coveting of the Ballon d’Or overly brazen for some, who believe Griezmann’s words are yet to be matched by achievement. “Ignorance can be bold,” said Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos. “He should look to Diego Simeone or Diego Godin. Those are the values that would suit him.”