Madrid (AFP) – Antoine Griezmann’s decision to leave Atletico Madrid has plunged the club into chaos and fired the starting gun for a summer scramble among Europe’s elite.
Top scorer in each of his five seasons, Griezmann was the stardust of Atleti, offering spontaneity and craft in a team renowned for discipline and grit.
But he grafted too, which is why he was the perfect fit. Griezmann would run and chase as much as he passed and shot, his willingness perhaps exceptional for one of the world’s premium attackers, a class in which he now deservedly belongs.
“I said it last season and I’ll say it again – Griezmann is the best player in the world,” coach Diego Simeone said in October.
In a team that creates more chances and gives him a greater chance of converting them, Griezmann is likely to deliver an even better return than his 129 goals for Atletico in 256 games.
One more against Levante on Saturday will edge the Frenchman clear of Fernando Torres but Torres left a hero. Griezmann’s exit will leave a bitter taste.
“The truth is it has been difficult to take this route but it’s what I feel I need,” Griezmann said in a video for the fans.
He will be too late for a last outing in front of them at the Wanda Metropolitano, perhaps out of respect for Diego Godin, the godfather to his daughter, who was given a rousing farewell on Sunday after the club’s final home game of the season.
Perhaps Griezmann was wary too, unsure if he waved to the stands whether it would be waving hands he saw coming back.
The hope was he would be playing there in the Champions League final on June 1, the dream of hoisting a European trophy on home turf a key factor in his decision to reject Barcelona last year.
Godin would have led them out but, at 33, with his best years behind him, he goes with the blessing of the fans, a La Liga title, two Champions League finals, two Europa Leagues, three Super Cups and a Copa del Rey under his arm.
Griezmann, five years younger, should be entering his prime, and departs with only one Europa League and a Super Cup. Worse, most suspect he is about to strengthen Barcelona.
– ‘Best still to come’ –
“I think my best time is still to come,” Griezmann said in December. “I know I can get even better.”