Their pursuit of Antoine Griezmann—deemed disrespectful, ill-timed and inappropriate by the capital club—has gone on long enough. Atleti are taking a stand in order to try to quash the rumours that threaten to disturb their preparations for Wednesday's UEFA Europa League final at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, in Lyon, France.
But once that's done, expect talk of the Frenchman's relocation to the Camp Nou to spread uncontrollably once again.
It's clear Barcelona have wanted the 27-year-old for some time—and what they want, they generally get. You only need look at Philippe Coutinho's transfer in January to be reminded of their power in these matters. You can fend them off initially, but they will eventually make you look like you brought a toothpick to a jousting competition.
He'll cost £88 million. It's a lot, but given the state of the transfer market, that represents value for a player of Griezmann's quality. He's in his prime, recognised as one of the best players in the world, and he has this season taken steps of maturity that suggest he would be comfortable moving from a plucky underdog to an overwhelming favourite.
But where would the France international fit in at Barcelona?
|Antoine Griezmann's 2017-18 Statistics|
At first glance, he feels a bit like a luxury buy. With Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele already at the Camp Nou, they are hardly paupers in the attacking-quality stakes. When you consider the latter two have yet to complete a full year in Catalonia and cost a combined £250 million, you start to ask a few questions.
But with Dembele a clear work in progress (and struggling with injuries all season) and Coutinho likely set to fulfil the Andres Iniesta role from here on, there's an opening for Griezmann, be it from the flank, the No. 10 spot or even up front. The fact of the matter is he suits Barcelona—or, more accurately, he suits Ernesto Valverde's Barcelona.
Griezmann has spent almost four years playing in Diego Simeone's system, which largely presents itself as a 4-4-2 but often slides into a 4-3-3 as it shifts toward the flanks off the ball—particularly when they press. The forward's ability to play wide or up front is key to making this work, as he understands the spatial and defensive commitments necessary for smooth transitions.
A similar kind of system is in place at Barcelona. Valverde has taken the team his own way and replicated some of the shapes he used at Athletic Bilbao rather that subscribe fully to the Blaugrana's historic 4-3-3 policy. It touches on elements of it, but the team primarily lines up as a 4-4-1-1 with Messi behind Suarez.
Griezmann would give Valverde a new-found flexibility with regard to his forwards' positional rotations. And the fact he seems tactically attuned to how Barca have been playing means those benefits should be felt immediately. It would also relieve some of the burden on Messi from a creative standpoint, and perhaps on the goalscoring front for him and Suarez as well.
You could field Griezmann almost anywhere, and he would contribute. He feels very plug-and-play, adaptable and willing to help however he can.
He pretty much ticks all of the Valverde boxes: tactically aware, technically neat and not averse to a certain amount of self-sacrifice on the pitch. Anyone who watched him tracking back doggedly for Atletico against Arsenal in London in April—a game in which he also scored a crucial away goal—can testify to that.
It feels an odd thing to say given Griezmann's playful personality through fashion sense, off-pitch behaviour and Fortnite-inspired celebrations, but acquiring him would make Barcelona a more mature team.
This season, he's carried an immense responsibility at Atletico, essentially having formed every facet of the club's attacking strategy until Diego Costa arrived in January. That he was willing and able to shoulder that load marks him out as the kind of player Barca need.
There's a parallel there between Griezmann and Messi, who has also been forced to do an incredible amount of heavy lifting this season to keep Barcelona on track. Uniting the two in the same team would lessen the pressure on both, allow them to share the burden and complete a vicious, interchangeable front three along with Suarez.