When Barcelona confirmed the signing of Antoine Griezmann in July 2019, a two-year transfer saga was finally brought to a close.
The Catalan giants had pursued the forward since 2017 and were the subject of a complaint from Atletico after allegedly making an illegal approach for the player in December of that year.
Barcelona eventually wrapped up the deal for €107m in the summer of 2019, and two months later they were fined a full €300 for breaking Spanish Football Federation and negotiating with Griezmann without Atletico’s permission.
But Barcelona had good reason for pursuing Griezmann so intently. The forward had been Atletico Madrid’s talisman since joining the club in 2014, scoring 133 goals in 256 appearances. He was the top scorer and player of the tournament at Euro 2016 and finished third in the Ballon d’Or that same year. Griezmann was a huge statement signing; a world class player joining up with some of the most talented footballers on the planet, at one of the world’s most iconic clubs.
Yet the Frenchman has completely underwhelmed. Having been Atletico Madrid’s top scorer during each of his five seasons with the club, he has found the net just eight times in 29 La Liga appearances this term.
He looks a shadow of the player Barcelona paid a club record transfer fee for.
The 29-year-old has faced a selection of challenges to acclimatise to since his big money move. At Atletico, Griezmann was the main man. The team was built around getting the very best out of him. When you’ve got a certain Lionel Messi as your teammate, suddenly you’re no longer the priority.
As he’s no longer the star of the show, Griezmann has found himself shifted out of position at Barcelona in order to accommodate for Luis Suarez. With the Uruguayan playing through the middle, Griezmann has been utilised as a left winger. Although this is where the Frenchman made his name with Real Sociedad six years ago, Griezmann established himself as one of the finest footballers in the world playing as a striker. While at Atletico he had a free, roaming striker role; at Barcelona he has found himself in a more restricted left wing position.
Such is the quality of Suarez and Barcelona’s need for a left winger due to the signings of Ousmane Dembélé and Philippe Coutinho not working out, the World Cup winner was always going to operate out wide at Camp Nou. Barcelona have attempted to solve their left wing woes by purchasing a €107m striker and playing him out of position.
Griezmann’s strengths are his lethal finishing, eye for goal and link up play – traits that will naturally not flourish on the left wing.
Although the way he has been utilised goes some way to explaining his disappointing goal return this season, it does not solve it completely. He has not been completely starved of chances, but in front of goal his potency has diminished. Where there once was an arrogance and a certainty, there is now a lack of confidence, an uneasiness and a tendency to overthink.
Being played on the left flank is not purely the reason Griezmann has struggled. In January, he was presented with the opportunity to play in his favoured central striker role and lead the Barcelona line after Suarez suffered a serious knee injury. However, his positional change did still not yield the sudden upturn in fortunes that may have been expected.
Griezmann played eight times as a central striker in La Liga in Suarez’s absence, but found the net just once.
He is not a like-for-like replacement for Suarez. The former Liverpool man favours playing on the shoulder of the last defender, and prides himself on his hustle and bustle just as much as his supreme technical ability.
Griezmann, meanwhile, likes to drop deep, drifting into pockets of space between the opposition midfield and the defence to receive the ball and run at players. Sound familiar?
Messi is renowned for floating in between the defensive lines to pick up the ball before embarking on a trademark, weaving run. This is a Barcelona team built for Messi to thrive, with Suarez playing high to present the mesmerising Argentinian with all the time and space in the world.
If Barcelona are to get the best out of Griezmann, they need to start building a system with him in mind. He is 29 – three years younger than Messi and four years younger than Suarez. The pair are obviously ridiculously talented individuals, but the team cannot revolve around them forever.
Barcelona need to start playing to the strengths of their €107m man during the best years of his career. And by giving him that vote of confidence, Griezmann may just get his infectious swagger in front of goal back.