FEATURE | Antoine Griezmann – a legend for club and country

Despite Atlético Madrid’s disappointing 3-3 draw against Getafe in midweek, there was at least one thing to cheer about: Antoine Griezmann, after 364 games for the club, equalled the late Luis Aragones’ all-time goal-scoring record for the club, a record he is sure to surpass in the coming weeks. 

After a brace in the midweek, the French international brought his tally up to 173 goals and confirmed his place as an Atlético legend. However, Griezmann’s road to legendary status has not been without its controversies. His departure to La Liga rivals Barcelona risked ruining his legacy at the club; his plaque outside the stadium was trashed, he was whistled by the fans who once loved him, and many at the club did not have kind words for a player who owed them so much. Club president Enrique Cerezo slammed the forward for “leaving through the backdoor rather than with everyone’s blessing. Players play where they want. If they want to leave, go.”

Griezmann’s Barcelona move risked ruining legacy

Griezmann, a World Cup winner with France in 2018, ultimately made the 120 million euro move to Barcelona, where he went on to spend an unhappy two years between 2019 and 2021. While nobody doubted his ability, he joined the Catalan club during a low point in their history and was never able to integrate into the team, only scoring a total of 22 goals in his two-year spell. 

Griezmann’s career was at a crossroads, and it was time to return home to his beloved colchoneros. Many were opposed to the idea, and Griezmann’s immediate return was hardly a bed of roses. The Frenchman was limited to an average of just 30 minutes a game as Atlético hierarchy wished to reduce Barcelona’s asking price: A two-year loan deal was struck between the two clubs that stipulated that if Griezmann played more than 45 minutes in more than 50% of the games, then Atletico would be contractually bound to pay Barcelona 40m euros to sign him permanently. With the Frenchman’s limited, he was a shadow of his former self.

Griezamann’s return to his former club promised to be short-lived as doubts arose as to whether it was worth bringing him back on a permanent basis, but in stepped Diego Simeone. Griezmann was always Simeone’s man, and after the striker’s replacement, João Félix left for Chelsea on loan after not living up to his price tag at the Wanda Metropolitano, Griezamnn had a chance to redeem himself. After a change in the agreement with Barcelona, Griezmann was again the main man. He didn’t let the opportunity slip and has since been back to his blistering best. He finished the 2022/23 season with 16 goals and 19 assists and has started the new season just as well. 

La Liga title eludes Griezmann

Griezmann has redeemed himself. Despite a shaky start to his second spell at the club, there are few who still hold a grudge against their undeniable legend. Nobody is as repentant as Griezmann about how his first spell with the club ended, and he has always been looking to make amends. Speaking after he equalled the record, the 32-year-old said, “I know people want to hear from me: I am sorry for how I hurt them,” he said. Later, he would add: “I went through that situation because I caused it. I had hurt the club, and the best thing I could do was keep my mouth shut, work hard, and do everything to help the manager.” 

Certainly, it seems he has been forgiven by those at the club, and his spell at Barcelona is water under the bridge. Luis Aragones Junior, the son of the late Aragones, recognised that “some of us were a bit angry with him…there were things that we lifelong Atlético fans did not like,” but that he has since “managed to turn everything around. Now we all recognise him as one of the best players in Atletico Madrid’s history.”

Player and club will be hoping to continue their story as Griezmann still searches for the elusive La Liga title and Atlético Madrid hopes to finally get their hands on the Champions League trophy. 

GFFN | Finn Entwistle

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