Antoine Griezmann – The Hero Atletico Need, And Perhaps Even Deserve

Antoine Griezmann was hardly the talking point after the first leg of the all-Madrid Champions League semi-final. Real’s 3-0 victory over Atletico came thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo who grabbed a sensational hat-trick – and all the headlines. Griezmann, by contrast, cast a sunken figure as his side was left with a mountain to climb in the second leg.

To put it into scale, his side are 50/1 outsider odds to win the Champions League from online bookies (as of 5th May). The Frenchman had the full weight of the Atletico supporters’ expectations on his shoulders at the Bernabeu and he wasn’t able to deliver. It has happened before, of course, and as rumours continue to swirl around his future at the club, Atletico Madrid need Griezmann more than ever.

Antoine Griezmann is not the first top class striker to play for Atletico Madrid in recent years (or indeed La Liga) and he won’t be the last. In the last ten years, Atletico have had no fewer than six of the world’s best strikers at the club and still managed to move on after cashing in on them in the transfer markey. From Fernando Torres to Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero in the early days, Atletico have since replaced them with the likes of Diego Costa (now firing on all cylinders at Chelsea), Radamel Falcao and, to a lesser extent, Jackson Martinez. They’ve had no shortage of firepower up top but there’s something different about Antoine Griezmann.

That rare thing of a Frenchman coming through the ranks of a Spanish academy, Antoine Griezmann was plucked from obscurity by Real Sociedad at the age of 14. A pacy winger with an eye for goal, Griezmann broke into the first team and started attracting the attention of clubs across Europe. He formed a formidable partnership with Carlos Vela in the Sociedad first team but soon outgrew the La Liga side.

In July 2014, he signed for Atletico Madrid in a reported €30 million deal. Atletico had just won La Liga but had sold Diego Costa to Chelsea that same summer. Griezmann was a replacement but in terms of personality and playing style, the pair couldn’t be more different. Costa is a combative, aggressive centre forward who gets into the face of the opposition. Griezmann, by contrast, almost looks like a child and plays the game with a smile on his face. He was no less effective than Costa and followed up 25 goals in his first season with 32 in his second.

But Atletico struggled to replicate their previous successes. They were a club in transition but regrouped and were again on the cusp of greatness in the Frenchman’s second year. They missed out on another La Liga title by just three points but had the opportunity for glory – and revenge – in the Champions League final. Real were the opponents again, just two years after losing the same fixture to their local rivals. History repeated itself as Real won in extra time but the match wouldn’t have lasted that long had Griezmann not missed a penalty in normal time. The former Sociedad man took the blame for the defeat but Atletico became the first side to lose three European Cup finals.

Something seemed to change at Atletico Madrid after that defeat. It almost felt like the end of an era for Simeone’s men as rival clubs began to circle for pickings. Simeone himself is now being heavily linked with a move away from Atletico with Inter Milan reportedly tripping over themselves to sign their former player. The Argentinean’s departure would undoubtedly change the situation for the key men at Atletico and there are few more important than Griezmann.

Manchester United are reportedly the front-runners for the Frenchman’s signature with a transfer fee of £100 million being quoted across the press. They certainly have a history of cashing in on key players at the right time and Atletico Madrid have always recovered. The obvious thing to do would be to cash in on Griezmann at the highest possible price but Atletico need Griezmann now more than ever.

Griezmann is different to the strikers before him because his time at the Calderon is tinged with regret. He hasn’t won trophies like Costa and Falcao did and he can’t blame his lack of silverware on an average side like Fernando Torres could. Griezmann only has himself to blame and the best thing he could give to Atletico is not a massive transfer fee but a trophy in these uncertain times at the club. For the first time in a decade, Atletico have a star forward whose ability on the pitch is more important than his value in the transfer market.

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