The forward rejected the chance to join the Blaugrana last summer but is now set to belatedly arrive in Catalunya to a mix of bemusement and outrage
The animosity was evident even before kick-off.
When Antoine Griezmann’s named was called out by the stadium announcer ahead of Atletico Madrid’s must-win Liga visit to Barcelona in April, the Camp Nou crowd responded with boos.
Once the action got under way, the forward’s every touch was whistled.
Then, when he went to take a corner early in the second half, the north stand really made their feelings towards him known, unanimously bellowing: “Griezmann, you bast*rd, get out of Camp Nou!”
All we were missing was a pig’s head…
Such abuse was uncalled for, of course, yet wholly unsurprising.
The Frenchman hadn’t just spurned Barcelona’s advances the summer before, he had humiliated them in front of the watching world.
Griezmann had announced he would be staying at Atletico on a specially made television documentary named ‘The Decision’.
This was a gallingly public rejection for a club as proud as Barcelona, who had believed that Griezmann’s move to Catalunya was effectively a done deal. The Blaugrana were, thus, enraged by the perceived betrayal.
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu was hit hardest by Griezmann’s U-turn; the World Cup winner was meant to be his stellar summer signing. Instead, he was left embarrassed, weakened, by the whole affair.
Bizarrely, though, Bartomeu has resurrected the transfer, with Griezmann set to belatedly arrive in Catalunya this week once the two clubs agree on the exact nature of the deal.
He will not be warmly welcomed by the majority of Barca fans. Or even the club’s board.
Make no mistake about it: Bartomeu is the sole driving force behind the deal, which has been greeted with bemusement by some fans, and outrage by others.
They, and several Barca directors, remain wary of Griezmann and this undeniably puzzling turn of events.
Griezmann, after all, had explained his decision by telling L’Equipe Magazine, “When you’re shown love at home, you don’t go elsewhere.
“[Atletico] did everything possible to make me feel good.”
And yet, according to Rojiblancos CEO Miguel Angel Gil Marin, Griezmann had decided by March that he wanted to join Barca after all.
It will be, thus, fascinating to see how he is greeted not only by the supporters but also by the senior members of the squad, chief among the club captain Lionel Messi.
We know that the Argentine and the likes of Luis Suarez are desperate to see their good friend Neymar return to Barcelona this summer but their feelings on Griezmann’s imminent signing are not yet clear.
Remember, the 28-year-old admitted that an unwillingness to serve as “Messi’s lieutenant” had, perhaps “subconsciously”, been a factor in turning down Barca.
“It was very difficult,” Griezmann told Canal+. “You have Barca who wants you, who calls you, who sends messages.
“But then there is the club where you are, where you are an important player and where they build a project around you.”
There are those at Barcelona who do not want him to be a part of their project at all, believing his €120 million (£107m/$136m) transfer fee would be better used elsewhere, with Barca in need of a right-back, cover at left-back, another Frenkie de Jong-like signing to further rejuvenate the midfield and, most importantly of all, a direct Suarez replacement up front.
It also remains unclear if Ernesto Valverde is pushing for Barca to complete this deal.
He has previously described Griezmann as “a great player” but former midfield maestro Xavi has cast doubt over the coach’s role in the transfer.
“We have to see who is signing him,” the Barca legend reasoned. “Is it the sporting director? The coach? The president?
“If I were at Barca [as coach], I would ask for the signings, and if the dressing room didn’t agree with any of them I’d speak with them.
“But, in the end, I’d decide whether to sign someone. Be it Griezmann or whoever.
“However, it would be another thing altogether if [Valverde] doesn’t want him either. Then, we would have a problem.”
A very expensive and potentially divisive one at that.
It is worth pointing out that both Ivan Rakitic and Clement Lenglet have spoken in glowing terms about Griezmann.
Lenglet, of course, is one of his team-mates at international level but it was interesting to hear Rakitic try to make a subtle plea to the fans to quell their anger towards Griezmann.
“You have to congratulate him for it because he showed his love and dedication to his club,” the Croatian argued. “It was not a decision against Barca or anyone; it was in favour of Atletico.
“I congratulate him for that decision and now if I saw him here I would shake his hand and tell him that I respect him because it is not easy to make that decision, to stay then and to leave this year.
“All good players are welcome to us.”
Clearly, Griezmann will have his supporters at Camp Nou. Just maybe not as many in the stands as he would have liked.
It is going to take some time – and plenty of goals – for Barca fans to forgive the decision Griezmann made last summer.
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