Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi never quite hit it off at Barcelona and now the Frenchman has to leave the club so that Messi can stay.
News of Messi having agreed to a 50 per cent pay cut on a new five-year deal was leaked on Wednesday, largely to encourage sponsors to continue to commit to Barcelona as they try to haul themselves out of the financial mire.
The deal will happen but it will take time because for them to be able to pay Messi even half of what he previously earned they need to make massive savings elsewhere. Getting Griezmann off the wage bill is a start.
Antoine Griezmann (left) and Saul Niguez (right) are in a swap deal neither player has asked for
Griezmann (left) is being let go by Barcelona to pay for Lionel Messi’s new five-year deal
Griezmann’s contract at Barcelona is heavily incentivised but with bonuses a basic salary of €12m rises to €20m, Saul will join for considerably less than half that sum, a saving that will go some way to help the club pass LaLiga’s financial fair play rules.
They will then be allowed them to register Messi and his national team-mate Sergio Aguero as well as Eric Garcia, Emerson and Memphis Depay.
There are not solely football reasons for ditching Griezmann. His record of 35 goals in 99 games is decent and he was instrumental in Barcelona’s only trophy last season, the Copa del Rey.
Griezmann’s Barcelona goal record is far from bad but new signings need to be registered
It would make more sense for Philippe Coutinho or Ousmane Dembele to be sold but with both injured that looks impossible this summer and so Griezmann has been pushed into the market.
No bids have been forthcoming and even if they had, the player was reluctant to leave Barcelona for the Premier League. If he was going to leave he wanted it to be back to his former club and the swap with Saul Niguez suits just about all parties.
Griezmann has never stopped being in close contact with his former Atletico Madrid team-mates. There was texting in his first season and he even indicated to them that he’d made a mistake and would not be against returning. He is currently on holiday in Ibiza with Koke, ready to fly back when the deal is done.
Atletico can’t believe their good fortune. It was Luis Suarez last season and now it’s Griezmann. The club’s supporters will be divided at first. Some will not want to forgive the player who left them in 2019 but others will see a chance to win a second straight title boosted by the arrival of someone who has already shown he can score 20 goals a season for the club.
Letting Griezmann go will feel like when Barcelona sold Luis Suarez to Atleti last summer
Letting Griezmann (right) return to Barcelona in return for Saul is a deal that suits both clubs
Diego Simeone will persuade the doubters – this is too good an opportunity to spoil with grudges. Diego Costa, Felipe Luis and Fernando Torres all went elsewhere and returned, why should it be different for Griezmann?
Barcelona president Joan Laporta is understandably concerned that this could be Suarez II. If it was bad watching the Uruguayan win the league with Atletico last season how will it feel if Griezmann does it next year? But he has been advised by Barcelona’s director of football Mateu Alemany that the club is not in a position to say no.
It would sweeten the pill if Atletico paid money as well as sending Saul but they are not prepared to do that. There has also been talk of including more players in the deal but Barcelona are already struggling to register the players they have acquired so far this summer and more would only swell the wage bill more.
Saul can also hope that a Barcelona move will boost his chances to return to the Spain squad
What shouldn’t be forgotten is that Saul is not a dud. Barcelona know that, that’s why they included an option on him when they sold David Villa to Atletico Madrid in 2013.
He has suffered at Atletico in recent seasons because Simeone has taken advantage of his versatility by changing his role on the pitch and even using him at full-back where he is not comfortable.
Barcelona represents the opportunity to get back in the Spain side ahead of next year’s World Cup. He is only 26 and will complement Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Frenkie De Jong giving Ronald Koeman good midfield options.
But the move is not one that Saul wants to see happen. When Atletico Madrid fans asked him about his future while he was greeting fans for their pre-season campaign, the midfielder responded: ‘They’re kicking me out man!’
The biggest plus for Barcelona is the way the deal helps them stay within LaLiga restrictions and register Messi. Signing him this summer, and just 11 months after he sent a burofax to the club requesting they allow him to leave, is all president Laporta and most fans want.
The most important advantage for Barcelona is that they can hold on to Messi this summer
Messi will be happy alongside Aguero and with Ansu Fati hopeful of starting the new season fit. The first is his long-time friend and the second the 18-year-old he took under his wing last season.
Griezmann never quite made it into that clique. There was never animosity. The two shared a Mate during down time and there were moments of telepathy on the pitch, notably at Villarreal in his first season.
But Griezmann favours operating in the same areas of the pitch as Messi and although he did his best to become another sort of player – one who stretches the opposition to make room for Messi, it never really worked.
During one game in his first season against Atletico Madrid he was brought on with just a minute left to play at the Nou Camp. Simeone observed the humiliation from his technical area and must have wondered then if he might not get the chance to rescue Griezmann one day.
He’s rescuing Griezmann now, and Griezmann is helping to rescue Barca – get another couple off the wage bill and they can keep Messi.