Antoine Griezmann‘s decision to leave Atletico Madrid has plunged the club into chaos and fired the starting gun for a summer scramble among Europe’s elite.
Top scorer in each of his five seasons, Griezmann was the stardust of Atleti, offering spontaneity and craft in a team renowned for discipline and grit.
But he grafted too, which is why he was the perfect fit. Griezmann would run and chase as much as he passed and shot, his willingness perhaps exceptional for one of the world’s premium attackers, a class in which he now deservedly belongs.
“I said it last season and I’ll say it again – Griezmann is the best player in the world,” coach Diego Simeone said in October.
In a team that creates more chances and gives him a greater chance of converting them, Griezmann is likely to deliver an even better return than his 129 goals for Atletico in 256 games.
One more against Levante on Saturday will edge the Frenchman clear of Fernando Torres but Torres left a hero. Griezmann’s exit will leave a bitter taste.
“The truth is it has been difficult to take this route but it’s what I feel I need,” Griezmann said in a video for the fans.
He will be too late for a last outing in front of them at the Wanda Metropolitano, perhaps out of respect for Diego Godin, the godfather to his daughter, who was given a rousing farewell on Sunday after the club’s final home game of the season.
Perhaps Griezmann was wary too, unsure if he waved to the stands whether it would be waving hands he saw coming back.
The hope was he would be playing there in the Champions League final on June 1, the dream of hoisting a European trophy on home turf a key factor in his decision to reject Barcelona last year.
Godin would have led them out but, at 33, with his best years behind him, he goes with the blessing of the fans, a La Liga title, two Champions League finals, two Europa Leagues, three Super Cups and a Copa del Rey under his arm.
Griezmann, five years younger, should be entering his prime, and departs with only one Europa League and a Super Cup. Worse, most suspect he is about to strengthen Barcelona.
“I think my best time is still to come,” Griezmann said in December. “I know I can get even better.”
But his choice is a reflection on Atletico too, raising questions about their future under Simeone, who was there on Tuesday with chief executive Miguel Angel Gil Marin and sporting director Andrea Berta, when his star player said he needed something new.
Two of Atletico’s three outstanding players – Griezmann, Godin and Jan Oblak – are about to move. Oblak signed a new deal last month but it contains a release clause, reportedly set at €120 million, hardly an obstructive price for arguably the world’s number one goalkeeper.
Lucas Hernandez has already agreed to join Bayern Munich. Juanfran, Filipe Luis or Rodrigo could be next.
Admiration for Simeone is unwavering among supporters but frustration simmers too over style and progress. Atletico sit 11 points behind Barcelona in La Liga, one year after the gap finished at 14.
Griezmann’s early decision at least allows time for what is Simeone’s biggest rebuild since he took charge in 2011.
He also begins it in a summer when Atletico’s rivals are expected to respond to the success of the Premier League with spending sprees of their own.
Neither Griezmann’s rejection of Barcelona, nor the fans whistling him at Camp Nou, will deter the club from a fresh approach.
There have been whistles there as well for their own Philippe Coutinho, whose future would become even more uncertain with Griezmann’s arrival.
A reduction in Griezmann’s release clause from €200m to €120 on July 1, means there is also time for others to enter the bidding.
Paris Saint-Germain are likely to offer the fiercest competition, particularly if they lay down a financial package Barca cannot match.
Griezmann at PSG could in turn give encouragement to Real Madrid, whose president Florentino Perez retains a strong interest in both Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, each seen as the sort of statement signing to launch a glorious new era under Zinedine Zidane.
Another is Paul Pogba, who Madrid might find easier to lure if United framed Griezmann as his replacement. For Atletico, the knocks could keep on coming.
The Premier League is awash with cash – but by no means do teams get every signing right. Now, with the book closed on another season, it’s time to look back on which summer signings flopped or fired.
Decisions are based on relative cost, how important he proved to his side and individual quality. Below we’ve picked out the best five buys of the Premier League campaign – for the best five, click here.
5. Naby Keita (Liverpool) Signed from RB Leipzig, £53m
Full disclosure – this is a controversial pick. Keita has struggled through injuries this season and found a fair lick of form before a groin injury finally put paid to a disappointing year earlier this month.
However, for a man who arrived in Liverpool as a supposedly transformative figure for the Reds’ midfield, the Guinean has been seriously underwhelming. There was nothing he couldn’t do for former club RB Leipzig – a goalscoring, playmaking dynamo with a V8 engine. Even at £53m, some quarters viewed it as a snip.
In nearly 1,400 Premier League minutes the 24-year-old mustered two goals and one assist. In a dominant team who are nonetheless crying out for ingenuity from midfield, Keita has metaphorically missed an open goal.
He’s at a crossroads heading into season two – but no doubt the potential is there.
4. Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Brighton) Signed from AZ Alkmaar, £17m
An inability to extract almost anything from Brighton’s summer signings led to Chris Hughton’s sacking, and no one precipitated that downfall quite like the hapless Jahanbakhsh.
Signed to some fanfare after hitting 21 goals the previous season in the Eredivisie for Alkmaar, the Iranian’s Premier League statline reads as follows: 19 games, zero goals, zero assists.
For a winger who’s supposed to be creative, he managed five key passes all season (according to whoscored.com). For a player who’s supposed to be pacy, he completed 11 successful dribbles, four of which came in the same game. The only reason he is not higher on the list is that the Seagulls didn’t quite break the bank for him, although £17m is still a big chunk of change for them.
3. Riyad Mahrez (Man City) Signed from Leicester, £60m
Manchester City are almost perfect. Almost. But their recruitment of Mahrez was a severe flaw in what had been a rather pristine recruitment policy on the way to Premier League dominance.
Mahrez’s ineffectivness this season hasn’t necessarily been the Algerian’s fault. Sure, his penalty against Liverpool in October is now orbiting Jupiter, but it shows how desperate he was to make his mark and establish himself as a first-choice.
Mahrez penalty just landed in my back garden in Didsbury pic.twitter.com/laoNuQawwC— Neil Custis (@ncustisTheSun) October 7, 2018
There was never any chance of a consistent run of games, however. Not even Leroy Sane – who has scored 39 goals in three seasons for City – is a sure-fire starter.
It would have made far more sense to hand new Real Madrid teenager Brahim Diaz the tastes of the first-team that Mahrez has been left dissatisfied with, saving £60m in the process.
2. Jean Michael Seri (Fulham) Signed from Nice, £27m
It seems aeons ago now, but once upon a time Barcelona were keen admirers of Seri. Now Barca are plotting a route to an elusive Champions League trophy with Dutch wonderkid Frenkie de Jong and Seri is plotting a route out of relegated Fulham.
He may had other suitors, but you could see the allure of Fulham for Seri. London-based, ambitious club playing attractive football. Lots of cash for wages.
In the end, the Ivory Coast international barely earned a penny of it as he chipped in with a solitary goal and two assists in a season where he looked embarrassingly lightweight as a Premier League player.
The former Nice midfielder is reportedly shuffling back to Ligue 1 with Monaco. Still, he’ll always have that screamer against Burnley. It was looking so good back in August …
1. Fred (Man United) Signed from Shakhtar Donetsk, £53m
On to another midfielder emblematic of a failed campaign, multiplied by a million. Fred was the only signing Manchester United made last summer that was expected to slot straight into the first-team, yet he ended up being a square peg for a squad containing many, many holes.
The Brazilian is certainly not the cause of all of United’s ills, but he showed next-to-no improvement over the course of the season.
Indeed he was so poor that Scott McTominay, who at this point is nothing more than a solid young player, deservedly kept him out of the side.
Fred is a do-it-all midfielder with Shakhtar Donetsk turned Doctor Do-little at United. The 25-year-old struggles to retain possession, is constantly out of position, is liable to trip over his own feet and is a non-entity in attack.
Paul Pogba has had his shambolic moments, but if this is the type of player he has to work with, how much can he be truly blamed?
Struggling to pick out the facts from the figures? Reality from the rubbish? Sense from the silly season? We’ve got you sorted in our daily dose of the Transfer Predictor, where we round up the latest rumours with an analytical spin.
We sort through the most eye-catching transfer reports of the past 24 hours and give a balanced judgment on whether the move really will happen – and why.
RUMOUR: Manchester City -> €80m -> Bayern Munich
Bayern have opened discussions with the Premier League champions over the potential summer transfer of the Germany winger, according to the Daily Record.
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: Bayern have held an interest in Sane since he burst through at Schalke in 2014, losing out against City two years later in the battle to sign him. The 23-year-old could now be available, for the right price, after rejecting a number of contract renewal offers on a deal that runs until June 2021 and disquiet with manager Pep Guardiola’s use of him. He was only granted 21 Premier League starts in 2018/19.
WHY IT WON’T HAPPEN: A pursuit of Lille and Ivory Coast forward Nicolas Pepe is already under way, meaning they hold other options to replace outgoing veterans Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. City are also pragmatic about the situation, meaning they’ll only sell if the price is right.
TRANSFER PREDICTOR: 7/10
RUMOUR: Monaco -> £40m -> Leicester City
Leicester are pushing hard to swiftly complete a permanent move for the Monaco loanee and head off competing interest from Manchester United and Tottenham, according to Sky Sports.
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: After a difficult year and a half in the Principality, Tielemans has shone brightly at King Power Stadium. His four assists and three goals from midfield has made him a valuable addition. With Leicester-owned Andre Silva also doing well at Monaco, a reciprocal deal could be arranged.
WHY IT WON’T HAPPEN: The Belgium midfielder has started to make good on the promise shown at Anderlecht. With United and Spurs keen on making midfield additions, his form hasn’t gone unnoticed. Monaco will want to sell to the highest bidder, whether they stay in Ligue 1 or get relegated. This could be bad news for the Foxes, who didn’t agree an option to buy Tielemans in January’s loan negotiations.
TRANSFER PREDICTOR: 6/10
RUMOUR: Hoffenheim -> €25m -> Borussia Dortmund
Dortmund are about to raid Bundesliga rivals Hoffenheim for Marcel Schmelzer’s replacement at left-back, according to kicker.
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: Schulz has experienced a breakthrough campaign for club and country. The 26-yer-old has become part of Germany’s squad, plus struck two goals and nine assists in 36 Bundesliga run-outs. With Raphael Guerreiro pushed into midfield, Real Madrid loanee Achraf Hakimi a natural right footer and 31-year-old Schmelzer on the wane, another option is required. BVB boss Lucien Favre signed Schulz at Borussia Monchengladbach in August 2015 and a reunion is desired.
WHY IT WON’T HAPPEN: There are conflicting reports in Germany about the existence of a release clause. This could yet cause difficulty, but an announcement is expected after the Bundesliga season ends this weekend.
TRANSFER PREDICTOR: 9/10