What's Behind Antoine Griezmann's Limited Playing Time at Atletico Madrid?

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 20:  Antoine Griezmann of Club Atletico de Madrid reacts after failing to score from a header during the La Liga match at the Vicente Calderon stadium on September 20, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

There on the sideline, still dressed in his warm-up gear, Antoine Griezmann must have sat uncomfortably in his seat on Sunday.

On his first return to the Anoeta since his switch from Real Sociedad to Atletico Madrid, the Frenchman—not included in manager Diego Simeone's starting XIwould have experienced a murky mess of conflicting emotions when his teammates, both new and old, did battle while he watched on helplessly. 

Though not a starter, Griezmann, at the very least, would have expected to play a significant part in the second half. But Guilherme Siqueira's sending off changed the script for Atletico; the need for attacking punch was replaced by a demand for defensive solidarity. 

And so there Griezmann remained, forced to sit and watch as his new club endured a 2-1 defeat to his former employer to compound what was already a difficult evening. 

On a night in which he supposed to take centre stage, he did little more than shake a few hands. 

MADRID, SPAIN - AUGUST 30: Antoine Griezmann of Atletico de Madrid in action during his warming up prior to start the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and SD Eibar at Vicente Calderon Stadium on August 30, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Go
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
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As he left the field after five fleeting minutes of action with the game essentially done and dusted, you could have excused the 23-year-old for owning an array of deflated thoughts, chief among them perhaps something along the lines of: What am I doing here? 

Indeed, for Griezmann this season, there is no statistic that is as remarkable as this: In 17 appearances for Atletico Madrid, he hasn't completed 90 minutes.

Not even once. 

Of course, it's not uncommon for those who switch clubs to take time to force their way into a new XI. But the Frenchman isn't a former academy star who's been promoted to the senior squad nor a low-cost signing brought in to plug a hole or bolster depth. 

No, Griezmann is a marquee, €30 million acquisition. A precocious, sought-after talent brought to the Vicente Calderon to help offset the loss of star names such as Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois with a view to prolonging the Spanish champions' stay at the pinnacle of La Liga. 

Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

Initially, the France international's limited playing time during his early weeks in the Spanish capital appeared to be cautionary. Simeone, it seemed, was keen to protect both the body and mind of a young star carrying considerable expectation after an arduous summer. 

As Griezmann's interrupted appearances lingered further, it felt that systematic issues were at play; the manager was tinkering with his new-look options in search of the most potent recipe. 

But now, several months into the new season and with major honours on the line, one senses there's more to it than that—particularly after his omission from Atletico's starting XI at the Anoeta. 

Is Simeone making some kind of a point? Is he setting an example with Griezmann? Is a baptism of fire Simeone's way of strengthening the collective identity he has formed at Atletico since his arrival?

GETAFE, SPAIN - OCTOBER 26:  Head coach Diego Pablo Simeone of Atletico de Madrid gestures during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Coliseum Alfonso Perez on October 26, 2014 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Mor
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

It was telling last month when Griezmann, a high-profile summer target, revealed why he'd turned down other offers to join Los Colchoneros. 

"[Atletico are] still the champions of Spain," he said, per Metro. "I needed a club like that and a coach like Diego Simeone to progress."

Such a comment is rare—an admission of sorts that he required a relentless, demanding taskmaster to push him to the another level (stars typically don't need extra motivation).

But not only was the comment rare, it was also very Atletico, the sort of selfless noises you expect to come from the Vicente Calderon under Simeone's rule. 

For Griezmann, such expressions of solidarity have been regular. 

"Simeone and I have spoken," the former Real Sociedad star said, per Marca, when asked of his manager's expectations of him. "I fully understand what he wants, and I'm trying to do just that in every game and every training session. I'm sure I can give him what he wants."

And Griezmann's response when questioned on his playing time and consistent substitutions at the hands of his manager?

"He sees things during the game and makes changes. I'm not going to ask him why he takes me off or why he plays me. I play for him and for my teammates," he added.

Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

Griezmann, one senses, is beginning to adopt the Atletico mentality.

"He's been working very hard, and his growth is due to his daily work," Simeone said of his new forward earlier this month, per Inside Spanish Football

But it's also hard not to feel that this is something of an enforced learning curve for the Frenchman, a message from Simeone that one's path to Atletico Madrid is irrelevant; regardless of who you are, you must buy into the club's ethos before you enjoy a prominent role.

Undoubtedly, Griezmann is one of the finest talents at the manager's disposal. Yet Simeone's approach to his marquee signing suggests he's not prepared to let the 23-year-old rest on a golden reputation at a second-tier club. Instead, it appears that he's ready to push him to become a bona fide star for one of Europe's current heavyweights.

Sitting him on the bench for extended periods is a part of that process. Denying him playing time is a sure-fire way to heighten his appetite. 

Griezmann, who said he needed "a coach like Diego Simeone to progress" asked for this. It's his job to endure the learning process, to prove he can become the star so many expect him to be.