One of the most important decisions shaping the upcoming Premier League season didn’t actually involve any team from England. That decision was in the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which had to rule on Atlético Madrid’s appeal of their FIFA-imposed two-window transfer ban. Though not a direct party to the CAS’s eventual upholding of Atleti’s ban, Manchester United’s potential resurgence did take a hit because of it.
Back in January of 2016, FIFA found Atlético and Real Madrid in violation of soccer’s governing body’s rules regarding the transfer of foreign youth players. The ban, which Atleti were hopeful of getting cut down from two windows to one in the same way Real were able to, means the club won’t be able to register any new players in the upcoming summer window.
This, obviously, completely tanked their summer plans. Atlético hit a homerun when they signed Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad a couple years ago to fill the shoes of departed star striker Diego Costa, continuing their unbroken lineage of finding great strikers, selling them to bigger clubs for a profit, and replacing the outgoing one with yet another great goal machine. However, they’ve struggled to find an elite forward to line up beside Griezmann, who needs a certain kind of strike partner to be at his most effective.
Enter Alexandre Lacazette. Or rather, don’t enter Lacazette. Back when Atleti thought they’d be able to get their transfer ban mitigated, the club reached an agreement with Lacazette and his current team, Lyon, on a transfer. Pending a positive CAS decision, Atlético were all set up to add another young goal machine either to pair with the highly coveted Griezmann should they keep hold of him, or to succeed Griezmann if someone swooped in to trigger his reported €100 million release clause and carry him away. When the CAS decision went against them, Atleti’s succession plan was ruined.
This was potentially very bad for Atleti. Manchester United had reportedly made Griezmann their No. 1 transfer priority this summer as Red Devils manager José Mourinho sought to add another critical piece to the club’s still incomplete post-Fergie rebuilding process. Griezmann and United were quite public with their flirtations, and for a while it looked like the switch was only a matter of time before it would be completed.
However, with the transfer ban being upheld (and on United’s part, the long-term injury Zlatan Ibrahimović suffered late in the season, which made them realize that they needed to prioritize the signing a true No. 9 before getting a second striker like Grizi), the timing wasn’t perfect for any of the involved parties. Atlético would’ve been screwed losing Griezmann without being able to replace him, Griezmann would’ve looked pretty bad abandoning the team where he became a star, and United might’ve run into a similar problem as Atlético have now had they brought in Griezmann without an ideal partner for him to play off of.
But all’s well that ends well. In recognition that Griezmann and Atlético would probably be staying together for another year, the club gave the forward a contract extension that greatly increased his salary (some reports say the Frenchman is now making twice as much as he was before), which in turn meant Griezmann wouldn’t be going anywhere just yet. The size of the pay raise, coupled with the fact that the new contract didn’t increase Griezmann’s release clause, means everyone knows this is most likely just a short-term marriage. The club’s official statement even quoted the striker as saying he was happy to stay in Madrid for “one more season.” Sure, the extension added one more year to Griezmann’s previous contract, but no one is confused about what this really means.
United too, then, aren’t necessarily all that put out by this turn of events. Griezmann would’ve immediately been their best attacker and arguably the best forward in the entire league, which clearly would’ve helped them be the trophy-challenging team they want to be. And there’s only so much time for the team to capitalize on its current setup before Mourinho does what he usually does and gets all the players in the dressing room to hate him. Regardless, United really did need to get a line-leading center forward before signing Griezmann would’ve made much sense (by most reports it’ll be Real Madrid’s Álvaro Morata), and Griezmann will still be there next summer, ready to take what no doubt will be an already extremely good United team over the top into truly great territory by then.
It’s probably Griezmann himself who comes out best. He gets a fat new contract, can be praised as the loyal hero who refused to abandon his club in its hour of need, can still leave in a year’s time for even more money and glory, and in the meantime will spend 12 more months with a better team, a better climate, and a boss who’s not José Mourinho. The transfer window works in mysterious ways.