Barcelona went to great lengths to sign Antoine Griezmann, who had been a player of interest for the Catalan club a couple of years before he ended up making the switch in 2019. Initially, it appeared that Barcelona had saved a fortune by signing the player for €120 million – a lot less than his €200 million release clause which was active only a few months before he made the switch to the Camp Nou. However, Barcelona ended up paying another €20 million to avoid a prolonged legal battle with Atletico Madrid.
Griezmann is certainly not the most expensive acquisition for Barcelona, who have spent big money on players like Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele in recent times. Just like those big-money signings, the Frenchman has struggled to make an impact at the Camp Nou. Only a few years ago, Griezmann was regarded as a potential candidate for winning the FIFA Ballon d’Or award, as he finished third in the 2016 standings. Now, he has been shuffled around the pitch – in the centre forward, playmaker role, left-wing, and right-wing – in the 2020-21 season in a bid to find his best position. A return of nine goals in 24 matches shows that Griezmann is far from hitting his best form.
Griezmann ended up scoring more than 15 league goals in each of his five campaigns with Atletico Madrid. In fact, he had been scoring in the double figures since the start of the 2012-13 La Liga season before the run came to an end in his first season with Barcelona. Griezmann’s return of nine goals in 35 league matches was a far cry from the enormous transfer fee and reputation that he commanded.
There is no doubt that Griezmann is a quality player. He has won the likes of the FIFA World Cup while he almost came close to winning the Champions League with Atletico Madrid. His struggles at the Camp Nou remains a mystery at various levels and the Frenchman – at 29 years of age – is fast running out of time to be part of a successful Barcelona outfit. Unsurprisingly, Lionel Messi has had to shoulder some of the blames for Griezmann’s poor form. Messi has been at the receiving end of criticism for many of the problems – on and off the field – at the club. It should not come as a surprise given the enormous influence that the Argentine has at the club.
Could Messi be a Problem?
Lionel Messi has been one of the greatest players in the history of the game. It is natural that the club bows to the requests of such a player to keep him happy under all circumstances. Over the years, there have been numerous rumours about Messi’s presence – with or without his knowledge – causing a number of top players to underperform. Messi started having more influence in the game when playing as a right-winger, but he has gradually been given a free role over the years. He has been playing more centrally – in a No 10 role – than ever before.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was one of the first players to suffer as a result of Messi’s presence. The Swede, who likes to dominate headlines, was simply not ready to a small fish. This resulted in his swift departure after having made a mega-money move to the Camp Nou.
One of the latest players to fail miserably at Barcelona has been Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian was signed for more than £140 million, but he had to be sent out on loan to recover his confidence. Such has been the fall from grace for the former Liverpool midfielder, who, incidentally, loves to play in a No 10 role.
Griezmann is no different, as he has enjoyed the majority of success in his career playing as the No 10. He has been able to feed off Olivier Giroud’s strong presence in the French national team, while the likes of Diego Costa were able to make sure that a similar environment was created at Atletico Madrid. Barcelona simply do not have such a player, as the team is only built around Messi and not a physical centre forward. The departure of Suarez has failed to provide any major uplift to Griezmann’s form and it is clear that the problem did not lie with the Uruguayan’s presence.
Signs of Hope: Left-Winger position on the pitch
There have been a few signs of hope when it comes to Griezmann’s plight at Barcelona. Unlike the flops who came to the club before him, the Frenchman has had a strong sense of workrate around him. One simply cannot accuse Griezmann of being lazy during his time at Barcelona. Even when things have not been going his way, the 29-year-old has been working his socks off and it has kept him in the team rather than being shoved out on loan.
Barcelona have tried to experiment with various positions for the player in the hope of trying to get his best position. In the last few matches, he has been utilised in the left-wing positions. An assist against Athletic Bilbao and two goals against Granada at the start of the year are signs that Griezmann has life left in him. He has been utilised as a left-winger in these matches to positive influence. Overall, Griezmann has been able to get five goals and three assists in five matches when playing as a left-winger. This is light years ahead of his statistics when playing as a centre forward, where he has only managed one goal in seven matches. Even in his first season with Barcelona, Griezmann ended up scoring more goals when playing as a left-winger.
Even though Griezmann is about to hit his 30s, it is too early to write off the Frenchman. There is also a strong possibility of Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona at the end of the season. This could potentially be the spark that ignites Griezmann’s career at the Camp Nou.