Antoine Griezmann's future will be decided before the World Cup. That's what the Frenchman claims. He could be a Manchester United transfer target once more. José Mourinho's men missed out on signing the striker during the summer window with the player opting to stay at Atlético Madrid.
Griezmann signed a new deal with the Spanish side after deciding to stay for the duration of their transfer ban, increasing his release clause to €200million. However, that figure will drop back down to €100million at the end of the current campaign, and United should be willing to trigger it.
The Red Devils have no problem going big in the market, a year after splashing around £140million on Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly, the club parted with a similar figure to bring Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matić and Victor Lindelöf to Old Trafford, and further spending is expected of Mourinho in the summer of 2018.
The 26-year-old Atlético man opened up about the possibility of swapping Madrid for Manchester on French television earlier during the summer months, giving the potential move a six-out-of-ten chance of coming to fruition.
Although Barcelona were said to have jumped ahead of United in the queue to sign Griezmann, their £140million purchase of Philippe Coutinho may leave them without the requisite funds to trigger the Atlético star's release clause.
The Sun claim Griezmann is still open to an Old Trafford switch, but he will demand a whopping £400,000 per week. Such a wage package would make the Frenchman the second highest-paid player at the club after Alexis Sánchez, but it might just be money well spent for United.
Despite finishing sixth in the Premier League last season, there are plenty of aspects of United's play that will have pleased both Mourinho and the club's fans.
After two years of pedestrian, possession-for-possession's-sake football under Louis van Gaal, the Red Devils rediscovered a modicum of the attacking flair for which they are known.
Indeed, United created 447 scoring chances in the top flight last term, compared to 312 in 2015/16. Mourinho's men ranked fourth in the Premier League for opportunities conjured, behind only Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, and above champions Chelsea.
Yet they ranked a lowly eighth for goals scored (54), hitting the net fewer times than Bournemouth (55). Only Southampton (10.7 per cent), Middlesbrough (11.3 per cent) and Sunderland (11.6 per cent) had a worse conversion rate than United (13 per cent) in 2016/17.
The chronic profligacy that saw the Old Trafford club squander chance after chance in matches they were dominating was not only frustrating for supporters, but may have cost United the chance to finish in the top four, or even contest the title.
Even though Ibrahimović was the club's top scorer with an impressive all-competitions return of 28, no player in the Premier League wasted more ‘big chances' than the Swede (18), while United as a team missed more clear-cut opportunities than any other side in England's top flight (50).
While the Manchester club have started the 2017/18 season well, you can never have too many goals in your team. Adding a finisher of Griezmann's quality would dramatically improve United's fortunes in front of goal.
The Frenchman has scored 91 goals in 182 games for Atlético, including 26 in 53 during the 2016/17 season. With an average of 5.5 shots per goal in La Liga last term, Griezmann was a much more efficient finisher than Ibrahimović (6.82 shots per goal).
The 26-year-old is also blessed with tremendous pace and would be a far more mobile option to lead the line that the former AC Milan and Barcelona star if Mourinho is ever without Lukaku and feels Rashford isn't best suited to that particular game.
Far from a mere goal-poacher, Griezmann is incredibly creative, and unselfish, too. From his role as a secondary striker in Diego Simeone's 4-4-2 system at the Vicente Calderón and the new Wanda Metropolitano, the No.7 has racked up 31 assists since joining the club in 2014.
Is Griezmann A Good Fit For United?
The one caveat to United's potential signing of Griezmann is that, within the systems Mourinho has employed this season, there is no obvious position for the former Real Sociedad man to slot into.
Of course, if he were to arrive at Old Trafford, Griezmann would be the first name on the team sheet each week. But the question of where he is positioned within the line-up is not as straightforward as it may seem.
United utilised either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation for the majority of the 2016/17 campaign. Since being converted from a winger upon his arrival in Madrid in 2014, Griezmann's has thrived as a secondary striker in a 4-4-2, playing slightly behind a conventional No.9 and benefitting from being able to drift between the lines of the opposition's defence and midfield.
There is no such position available in either 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 – the closest approximation would be the No.10 role in the latter. But this position and what it asks of its occupant, though similar geographically, differs somewhat from the-secondary striker role Griezmann prefers.
The Atleti man has experience of playing wide on the left from his time in San Sebastián, and, more recently, on the right for France, but neither truly get the best out of him. Indeed, it wasn't until France boss Didier Deschamps decided to switch to a lopsided form of 4-4-2 at 2016's European Championships that Griezmann really came to life, finishing as the tournament's top scorer with six goals.
Mourinho could make a similar tactical adjustment, but having seen how Pogba's performances were hampered by the additional defensive responsibility of playing in a midfield two in big games, he would be robbing Peter to pay Paul (or robbing Paul to pay Antoine, if you will).
The best solution could be to switch to 4-3-3, in games against high-calibre opposition at least, which would then mean closing between Griezmann and Lukaku in the central striker's position.
From there, Griezmann would be able to act like a false nine, dropping away from the front line to link play and appearing late into the danger zone, unmarked, as attacks progress – à la Lionel Messi circa 2011.
With the likes of Sánchez, Rashford and Anthony Martial either side of him, the fluidity of movement and positional shifting that this system would allow would see all of the forwards drift into the central attacking zones that they prefer at certain times, while width would be maintained throughout.
It would also mean that Pogba is able to stay on the left-sided central midfield berth where he is best. When playing at home against weaker opposition, a form of 4-4-2 could be deployed, as Pogba would have the freedom to roam from his position if possessional domination is anticipated.
Bringing the La Liga superstar in would not be simple from a tactical point of view. But if Mourinho can align all of his pieces effectively, Griezmann has all the tools to fire United back to the summit of the European game.