Madrid (AFP) – Antoine Griezmann’s first major trophy with Atletico Madrid may well prove to be his last if they can overcome Marseille in the Europa League final on Wednesday.
Griezmann’s future has dominated the build-up to this week’s showpiece match in Lyon, with the striker widely expected to join Barcelona in the summer.
A string of Atletico players were quizzed at a club ‘Media Day’ last week and even if coach Diego Simeone insisted his focus was like that of a racehorse – “head forward, I don’t see or hear anything but the final” – it is impossible to ignore the noise surrounding the Frenchman.
Luis Suarez had stirred the pot by speaking about Griezmann as though a deal with Barca was already completed, which prompted an angry response from Atletico chief executive Miguel Angel Gil Marin.
“We’re fed up with Barcelona’s attitude,” he said in a statement.
“How a president, player and board member speak the way they have done about the future of a player with an existing contract and just a few days before disputing a European final, is an absolute lack of respect towards Atletico.”
Griezmann has certainly not dampened the speculation, saying only that he wants his future resolved before the start of the World Cup, while last week even Atletico’s president Enrique Cerezo was hardly reassuring when he said: “Antoine Griezmann is an Atletico Madrid player, as of today.”
It all suggests the final could be amount to a Griezmann farewell, after a bumpy four years at Atletico, undoubtedly successful as a whole but not without a few stumbles along the way.
This term, he has 30 goals in 52 appearances and, since he joined, his La Liga record stands at 79 in 142.
“I think Griezmann is big enough to know what he’s doing,” his strike partner Diego Costa said.
“For a player, when Barca want you, it makes you feel important, but he knows that he is important for us and that we want him here.”
A departure seemed likely last summer when Griezmann rated his chances of joining Manchester United at “six out of 10” but if his teasing was then deemed slightly disrespectful, his decision to stay was applauded.
Atletico had been hit with a transfer ban and Griezmann said it would feel “dirty” to leave, with the club incapable of bringing in his successor.
But a new contract looked more like a stop-gap given it included a 100 million euro release clause, which will activate from July 1. For a 27-year-old in the prime of his career, before a World Cup, it is not a figure to deter his suitors.
“He would be cheap for the international market,” Filipe Luis said. “And it will be even cheaper if he wins the final.”
All the more reason then for Griezmann to deliver against Marseille, and for the club that took the gamble to sign him from Real Sociedad in 2014 when other elite teams looked but decided to hold off.
Marseille, meanwhile, are the club Griezmann was pictured managing while playing the game ‘Football Manager’ last year, when he jokingly apologised to Valere Germain and Kostas Mitroglou for not picking them in his side.
The furore surrounding Griezmann also serves to highlight the brilliant job Simeone has done, against the odds, and with rivals always circling his star players.
But Griezmann too has been key to Atletico’s run to the final and his talent would be difficult to replace.
“Right now he is thinking about winning a title,” Costa said. “If Griezmann can make history here with us, win that title, then afterwards there will be time for him to decide what to do.”
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