A move to Barcelona carries with it a unique set of expectations, with the demand of immediate success allied to the weight of absorbing a footballing culture embedded in the fabric of the modern game. There are no hiding places at Camp Nou, as many established stars have found out when they made the move to Catalonia. It’s a high-octane environment where the pitch can be lonely place if things do not go according to plan.
All of these factors will be on Antoine Griezmann’s shoulders when he makes his first strides as a Barcelona player in the 2019-20 campaign, following his controversial €120m move from rivals Atletico Madrid.
However, the spectre of living up to his price tag and finding a role in Ernesto Valverde’s starting XI could well turn out to be secondary compared the wider ranging role he has been earmarked for. A five-year deal for the France international clearly indicated the view that Griezmann is the future of the club, with growing rumours that they have chosen him as the player to take over the mantle of Lionel Messi.
Replacing a club legend is consistently fraught with problems and given the nature of Griezmann’s departure from Diego Simeone’s side, he has won himself few friends outside his new club through his conduct. Yet neither side will back down, and nor will Griezmann, as they protest their innocence over the deal that saw him head for the exit at the Wanda Metropolitano. Atletico fans appear not in the mood to forgive or to forget, and his return to the club on December 1 will test every inch of his resolve to become a serial winner.
The former Real Sociedad man has pushed for this move – arguably for over 18 months – and within that he knows what that entails. He is not short on confidence, despite a low-key end to his Atletico career, he will back himself to succeed following his big move north – but the added pressure of being Messi’s replacement will define him.
Both players, along with Valverde and the club’s board are likely to play the PR game over suggestions of a succession – with patience requested for Griezmann and a reminder of Messi’s peerless status. Despite his uber self-assurance, Griezmann will be under no illusion that he is not in the same galaxy in regard to his new teammate. Nor will Messi be fazed by the prospect of another pretender to his throne, having seen off over a decade of challengers.
Griezmann’s focus will be as the tip of the sword in a new Barcelona, one that retains the deeper influence of Messi, but with a firm knowledge that time and football moves on – even for the all-time greats.
Despite turning 32 over the summer, Messi’s influence on the team remains as strong as ever, as his 2018-19 numbers and performances showed. His pain at their Champions League semi-final capitulation against Liverpool demonstrated that there is no dulling of his determination to win the big one once more before he hangs up his boots.
Club President Josep Bartomeu has indicated that Barca will leave the issue of a contract extension in Messi’s hands – with his current deal due to expire in 2021. Messi will be 34 by then and is likely to have completed his developing transition to playmaker-in-chief, in behind Griezmann, with the potential for another year, if he wishes to keep going. His poor relationship with the Argentina national team could also have scuppered the potential of a final season with boyhood side Newell’s Old Boys, with his legacy as strong as ever at Camp Nou.
The challenge for Griezmann looks to be two-fold, establishing himself as a key figure whilst Messi remains at the peak of his creative powers over the next 18 months and being enough of an established figure to shoulder the burden in the years that follow.
At 28, Griezmann is approaching the peak years of his career as a forward, and certain aspects of his game will have to improve if he is to fulfil expectation – not to mention ease the strain on Messi. His role with Atletico was multi-faceted, and his ability to alternate between positions, both from a starting role and mid-game, have demonstrated his ability as one of LaLiga’s finest attackers.
Two of his best seasons in the Spanish capital came when he was allowed to operate in the non-defined space granted to him by the effective foils of Mario Mandzukic and Diego Costa. But he has developed as line-leader and a goalscorer in his own right, and that is a major part of what persuaded Bartomeu and Valverde to hold firm in pursuing him.
His status has been elevated by the view that he is capable of one-man shows that win games, scoring decisive goals and providing that missing ingredient that is needed in key games. But despite, the growing view that he has reached the level occupied by those players just below Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (pre 2018-19), there remains some fans unconvinced by his mettle and consistency to provide a killer blow when needed.
His record against Barcelona for Atletico and Real Sociedad indicates that. His record against Real Madrid for Atletico is six goals in 19 meetings, scoring in just one of their six Champions League battles with the old enemy. In the Champions League as a whole Griezmann has netted just six goals in four seasons of knockout stage football, with no goals outside of the group stages since 2017.
In LaLiga he has only broke the 20-goal mark twice in 10 seasons, five each for Atletico and Sociedad, only appearing in the top three for a season once. Griezmann has been regularly outscored in League action by Luis Suarez, Iago Aspas, Cristhian Stuani and Karim Benzema.
These numbers and lingering doubts over his mentality are likely to sneak back to the surface if he does not hit the ground running this season – and the spotlight will focus intensely on him, and crucially his reaction. Valverde, Messi and the rest of the experienced figures will also play a vital role in how Griezmann begins life at the club – assuaging rumours of squad unrest following his arrival.
The Messi legacy project will be put on hold in 2019-20, with another European title the goal to dispel whispers about Valverde’s future. Once the dust settled after their defeat at Anfield, questions still remained over what La Blaugrana need to do to have the fine margins in their favour.
Talk of a lack of energy, or an individual able to ask questions of an effervescent Reds side on the night immediately resurrected the Griezmann deal. Those fine lines are what decide football matches at the boiling point of the season – big Champions League nights and late season El Clasico ties – and despite their success under the former Athletic Bilbao boss, there is still a sense of a missing jigsaw piece.
The squad know they are no longer peerless in European football, forced back into the Champions League lottery after the heady days of Pep Guardiola, and briefly under Luis Enrique. They are mortal again – and have been for some time – and that has motivated the need for a rethink, to prevent any more ground being ceded to their old and new rivals both in Spain, and across Europe.
Valverde knows Messi can still lead his side to glory, through his genius and endurance, but there are nights when a new hero will be needed – as was the case at the back end of 2018-19 – and for now, that is Griezmann’s goal. Looking for a great print Soccer magazine delivered directly to your home. Check out it out here. www. soccer360magazine
ANTOINE GRIEZMANN – THE €120m Gamble?
Griezmann – A Friendly Foe for FC Barcelona.
The French international joins Ernesto Valverde on the back of five consecutive seasons of 20+ goals for Atletico Madrid in all competitions – however his record against his new side leaves a lot to be desired.
Griezmann failed to score in all 10 of his appearances against the Catalan, only netting in the Copa del Rey and Champions League, and including his eight games v FC Barcelona for former club Real Sociedad his record is two out of 18 La Liga games.
FC Barcelona and the ‘replacement curse’
Replacing club legends has become an almost regular occurrence in recent years, with the Pep Guardiola’s 2008-2012 team and Luis Enrique’s 2015 treble winners slowly moving towards retirement.
Leaders including Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta have all headed for the exit door as FC Barcelona has established themselves as a superpower, with mixed levels of success.
Gerard Pique has taken up the mantle of defensive leader from former mentor Puyol, with 17 major honours to his name, however ‘Xaviesta’ remain peerless in the eyes of La Blaugrana fans.
Looking for a great print Soccer magazine delivered directly to your home. Check out it out here soccer360magazine