Atletico Madrid Face a Losing Battle as Manchester United Eye Antoine Griezmann

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2016

Antoine Griezmann
Antoine GriezmannGonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Some clubs seem destined to fulfil pre-designated roles, regardless of how successful they are.

For example, Atletico Madrid have won one league title and reached two Champions League finals in the past three years, while Manchester United have finished seventh, fourth and fifth in the Premier League, never getting near a European showpiece event.

Yet if you were to ask a world football follower which was the bigger club, the vast majority would say United.

There are a lot of factors that go into that. The number of Red Devils fans around the world, the club's financial turnover, and how they are perceived by rival fans, players and managers all go into it, while there is also a kind of magical aura that the club emits.

Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Paul Pogba and Zlatan IbrahimovicMatthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

These clubs are seen as the dream destinations, and the places where all the best players in the world game want to end up—just ask Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for starters.

Atletico, for all of their success and the respect they’ve generated in recent seasons, aren’t one of those clubs. That is why the likes of Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa all decided to further their footballing education elsewhere. Obviously, money was a big factor in that, too.

And so there is a certain inevitability that Antoine Griezmann, the current apple of Atleti’s eye and a player who seems destined for the very top, will one day leave the club and head for one of these glamour sides. And it sounds like the groundwork is being done already.

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On Thursday, just a day after the closure of the transfer window in Europe, Bleacher Report’s Dean Jones reported that Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho is eyeing up a move for Griezmann in the summer of 2017, with the Frenchman perhaps seen as a long-term replacement for Wayne Rooney.

We all know how these things work these days, and it is possible that Mourinho and United’s "people" have already contacted Griezmann’s camp, perhaps looking to sound him out about a potential deal. It’s not exactly ethical, but it is just how football works.

And, of course, Griezmann would have to be interested.

United have started well under Mourinho, winning their opening three games of the Premier League season against Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull City, and there is real hope that the Portuguese can restore the Red Devils to former glories they haven’t experienced since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement.

Griezmann, Pogba, Schneiderlin and Martial
Griezmann, Pogba, Schneiderlin and MartialLars Baron/Getty Images

In addition, Griezmann has some of his French team-mates there already in the form of Pogba, Anthony Martial and Morgan Schneiderlin, and it isn’t beyond the realms of fantasy to suggest that those players will whisper a word or two into the forward’s ear to tell him how much they are enjoying life at Old Trafford.

Throw in Atletico’s disappointing start to their LaLiga campaign—with successive draws against newly promoted Alaves and Leganes, the latter result prompting Griezmann to declare that the club would be "fighting against relegation" if things carried on the way they did—and you can see that the dots are beginning to join up.

No Atletico fan would be as one-eyed to say that they expected Griezmann to stay at the club for the rest of his career, with the examples of Aguero, Falcao and Costa all showing that none of those superstar forwards saw their long-term future at the club.

Torres was different, of course, but then he grew up as an Atleti fan and was idolised by those he used to sit among at the Vicente Calderon. He’s ended up back at the club he loves, and they love him for that.

Antoine Griezmann
Antoine GriezmannJAVIER SORIANO/Getty Images

Griezmann seems destined to be a talent who just drifts through the club, and the worry for Atletico fans in the wake of this Manchester United interest will be just how quickly he does drift.

A poor season for Atleti—and it has started poorly—will suddenly make that path to Old Trafford seem all the more attractive, and the future of Diego Simeone is another worry that fans of the club will have to deal with.

The Argentinian coach suddenly looks a little burned out, and although it is foolish to judge him solely on a below-par start to the season, he could perhaps already be wondering about where his future lies.

Diego Simeone
Diego SimeoneGonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The fiery "Cholo" has been loyal to the club up until now and recently signed a contract extension to prove that loyalty, but should things continue to go wrong, the direction of the club has to come into doubt.

Suddenly there could be no more Champions League finals or LaLiga title challenges, and the main reason why world superstars would stay at an "unfashionable" club would be dragged into doubt.

Simeone could also be a target for the big fish such as Manchester United—presuming Mourinho does his usual two- or three-year stint—and the notion of he and Griezmann teaming up together at Old Trafford would surely be one that would get United fans purring.

That is for the future, though, as Atletico have no choice but to play as well as they can to avoid their star player’s departure.

Despite the below-par start to the season, there are still 36 games left in LaLiga and a whole Champions League campaign to come. Success in one or both of those could well convince Griezmann that he is in the best place for his career and his life.

Having come back late to the squad following his exertions at Euro 2016, he now has to get going in order to improve his own club’s form. It seems such a simple equation, but once he starts scoring, Atletico will start winning.

Antoine Griezmann
Antoine GriezmannAlex Livesey/Getty Images

Of course. the paradox in that is United—and others, for that matter—will grow more and more determined to sign him the better he gets, and so the whole cycle will go on.

Atletico themselves might well feel powerless in this, but all they can do is treat Griezmann well and try to convince him this is the club with which he can achieve all of his ambitions.

It might well be a thankless and ultimately futile task once United start fluttering their eyelashes and emptying their wallets, but the player would do well to remember just how he has elevated his game to the level he currently occupies.

Atletico didn’t create him, but they are hugely responsible for making the player that we all see today.

If Griezmann leaves, then it won’t be until the end of this season at the earliest.

It is up to Atletico to delay that departure by catching up to Spain’s top two and convincing their star man that they can consistently challenge and beat them both at home and abroad.

Then, and only then, can they look the likes of Manchester United in the eye on an equal footing.