Antoine Griezmann - Will he come good for Barcelona or is he going down the Coutinho route?
France ended their EURO 2020 qualification campaign on Sunday against Albania as Group H winners with a well-earned 2-0 victory away from home. Antoine Griezmann was vital behind the strikers as Didier Deschamps set them up in a 3-4-1-2 formation for a change. He ended up with a goal and a free-kick assist for Corentin Tolisso's headed goal. He looked completely different from the player who has so often looked isolated on the left wing for Barcelona this season. It begs the question as to what seems to be going wrong for him in club colours.
Having rejected the Catalans last summer and signing a contract renewal with Atletico Madrid, Griezmann signed for the club in this year's summer transfer window for €120 million. From the outset, there were doubts because there was a sense that he would not be accepted by the dressing room heavyweights easily after rejecting the club so publicly with a documentary called 'The Decision' in 2018, regardless of Gerard Pique's involvement in it. These issues coupled with the club's desire to re-sign Neymar make you wonder about the point of Griezmann's signing. It is no secret that key squad members are still friends with the Brazilian and wanted him back.
He got a chance to shine early on in the season because of injuries to Messi and Suarez. Four goals and three assists three months into the season is not enough for a player of his quality. In fact, he is yet to score for the club in the Champions League. Ever since Messi's return to fitness, Griezmann has been shunted out to the left side of the attack by Ernesto Valverde. He hasn't played on the left since his days at Real Sociedad before he signed for Atletico Madrid. There is also a perception that he does not receive as many passes as he should from his teammates in spite of being in good positions with Messi and Suarez preferring to pass to each other instead. As a result, he has often looked out of place in the team, not being able to contribute to the team offensively.
Coming from the Simeone school of football after five seasons with the Rojiblancos, he is more than ready to work hard for the team and contribute defensively. On more than one occasion, he has made clearances from his own box, almost playing as a left-back. It is clear that he is committed, industrious and determined to win his teammates' trust. His readiness to track back has undoubtedly affected his ability to be as involved in counter-attacks which present themselves immediately after. While he is not expected to be the main scoring outlet for the club, he must chip in with his share of goals and assists to reduce the burden on Messi.
In terms of tactics, there are two positions where he could do the job for the team in the current set-up. The tragedy is that one position is occupied by Messi and the other by Suarez. He doesn't fit the system like Neymar would or Dembélé does, offering width and pace to an otherwise static and narrow attack. Nevertheless, he may yet prove to be effective because of his versatility and willingness to succeed.
Some of the blame lies on the manager as well. In 2017, the signing of Paulinho left the fans exasperated initially. Valverde tweaked his set-up and found a role which brought the best out of him, which in turn helped the team. Paulinho won over the Camp Nou faithful with his performances and his surprising on-field connection with Messi. Valverde is yet to offer the same courtesy to Griezmann to allow him to shine and help the team at the same time.
It says a lot about the club's strategy in the market when none of the three players bought for more than €100 million each is an undisputed success. Ousmane Dembélé has had a stop-start career at the club because of injuries, disciplinary issues and mismanagement. Philippe Coutinho has already left for Bayern Munich on loan and is expected to move permanently at the end of the season. The jury is still out on Griezmann.
It must be said that he has a better chance than either of those to come good for Barcelona. His attitude and professionalism is unquestionable. It is a matter of time before things fall in place for the team and for him individually. After all, Cholismo dictates that you do not give up, especially when the odds are stacked against you.