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Writers’ Opinion

Opinion: Why Nobody Passes To Griezmann

A lot has been said about the way Antoine Griezmann has been treated by Lionel Messi and company since his big-money arrival at FC Barcelona, but you wouldn't pass to him either.

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When he joined Barcelona in 2019, there was a sense of "finally, they've got their man", but that wasn't necessarily the general feeling among the club's fanbase, who, a year earlier, witnessed Griezmann very publicly turn them down.

In a short televised documentary titled La Decision, the Frenchman announced he would be staying at Atletico Madrid amid his strong links with their fierce LaLiga rivals, a decision he'd go back on less than a year later. It was an error in judgement by Griezmann, although maybe only in hindsight. Following the release of the controversial video, he played an important role in France's 2018 FIFA World Cup-winning campaign, scoring four goals and assisting a further three strikes at the tournament.

La Decision didn't have the desired impact. It was perhaps produced to spur Atleti on, to give the club's faithful supporters an edge since their star man was staying. Unfortunately, however, Los Rojiblancos' only notable achievement in the 2018/19 season was winning the UEFA Super Cup against city rivals Real Madrid, a triumph that might have made Griezmann feel his decision to stay was justified.

On an individual level, the former Real Sociedad forward ended the campaign with his lowest goals tally (21) since joining Atleti, although his overall goals contribution – 31 in 48 matches – was still more than respectable. There were, however, moments during that season when cracks began to show. His relationship with his teammates, manager and the club's fans became strained.

Around March 2019, it began to appear increasingly likely that he was going to be leaving Atletico, with Barcelona, the club he'd theatrically rejected a few months earlier, to be his next destination. Fans booed him, his colleagues warned him, but his mind had been made up. And this is where it went wrong. One, he was tarnishing his reputation among Atleti fans, and two, he was gearing up to join a squad of players who weren't very happy with his actions before he went to the World Cup, Lionel Messi included.

Click through the gallery below to see some players who have reportedly left Barcelona because of Messi in the past. 

Eventually, he did sign for Barcelona, becoming one of the club's most expensive acquisitions of all time at €126 million (R2.3 billion). Surely he would do well, right? Surely he was going to win his new colleagues over. Surely he was going to make them forget his antics in 2018... Wrong. Griezmann, similar to what Philippe Coutinho experienced, had a long, long way to go.  

Shifted out to the left by then-manager Ernesto Valverde, Griezmann affected games defensively more than he did offensively. He was a left-footed player playing on the left side of attack, which ended up hurting Jordi Alba's influence on games. For context, Alba was involved in 82 shot-creating actions (the two offensive actions leading directly to a shot) in LaLiga during the 2018/19 season, and in only 45 during Griezmann's debut campaign, according to FBREF.

Although it might not be the only reason, this could be because Griezmann cuts inside less than a right-footed attacker playing on the left would, and thus does not create space in behind himself for the speedy and overlapping Alba. This isn't necessarily a reflection on Griezmann, who was being played out of position, but it does make you wonder what his discussions prior to signing for the club were about. Was he promised a different role? Did he envision himself playing more centrally?

The 2019/20 season ended up being a disaster for the Frenchman. Messi and Suarez hardly showed any interest in accepting him in their bubble, and that was clear before, during and after games, and on the training ground. They seemingly didn't trust him, and the harsh truth is he didn't give them good reason to. He was uninspiring in possession, he was failing to pick up dangerous positions on the field, and, sadly, he wasn't Neymar.

He contributed to just 19 goals in 48 matches for the Blaugrana in his first campaign at the Camp Nou, and he's only added three more goal involvements in nine games this time out to date. Interestingly, new manager Ronald Koeman has not played him as a left-sided forward since replacing Quique Setien, but still, things for the Frenchman don't look good. Oh, and Suarez is not there anymore either.  

Of his 10 shots in LaLiga this season, only two of them have been on target (20%), while he is only creating 1.44 chances per 90 minutes. In the 2019/20 campaign, that figure stood at 2.08, and sat comfortably above 3.00 in his last two seasons as an Atletico player. These statistics don't tell us the full story, but they do make for worrying reading. Not only does it appear his powers have waned, there is direct evidence to suggest they have.

To his credit, however, it's not for want of trying. The 29-year-old is clearly determined to turn things around at Barcelona, and just hasn't yet found the tools to help him do so. Koeman recently hinted that Griezmann needs a little luck, and while it might not be that simple, maybe he's right. Even then, the Frenchman must begin putting his chances away; he must simply perform better.

Messi Disrupting Barca Pay Cut Negotiations

We can blame Barcelona's poor transfer planning, we can look for a thousand excuses for Griezmann, but doing that ignores the fact that the Frenchman has, as harsh as it sounds, been a shadow of himself over the past year and a bit. Atletico was his home and he shouldn't have left, especially not under those circumstances, and especially not for a team he had embarrassed a year prior.

Will he turns things around? Time will tell, but I won't be holding my breath. 

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