The transfer that has been over a year in the making, and has felt basically inevitable for a couple months now, has now been completed. Antoine Griezmann is at last officially a Barcelona player.
Since the day Griezmann announced that he would be leaving Atlético Madrid this summer, his impending arrival at Barcelona has been something of an open secret. Barça and Grizi almost hooked up in the summer of 2018, but as depicted in his ill-conceived, will-he-stay-or-will-he-go TV special, the Frenchman decided to stick it out in Madrid for at least another season. This time, there was no way Barça were going to let the 28-year-old get away.
Along with ensuring Griezmann’s place at Atlético for last season, the aforementioned TV special appeared to have almost cost Grizi his dream move this summer. Many people in and around the club, reportedly including several big-name players, were annoyed that Griezmann had snubbed Barça in such public fashion the season prior. Those lingering annoyances were behind the reports that Barça’s dressing room was against the club pushing to sign Griezmann again this year, especially when it became clear that the players’ old friend and former teammate Neymar might be available.
Nevertheless, cooler heads prevailed (or maybe it was the rumored secret pre-contractual agreement between the parties that stated if either Barça or Griezmann broke their promise to join forces this summer, then the offending party would have to pay the other a penalty fee), and today Barcelona announced that they’d gotten their man. (Atleti, who have been pissed off at both Griezmann and Barcelona over this deal for a solid year now, released a salty statement of their own claiming Barça still owe them money, but that’s just legal posturing that’ll almost certainly amount to nothing.)
It’s difficult to analyze the situation on the pitch without knowing where Barcelona plan on going from here. On one hand, Griezmann is a fantastic player, one of the world’s very best, who immediately upgrades a Blaugrana squad that has been desperate for an elite, prime-aged forward since Neymar left. Griezmann is a terror in front of goal, is a genius in combination play, and for those reasons would appear to be a snug fit with a club that demands both of those attributes from its attackers. Not since the exit of Neymar and the death of the best version of Luis Suárez has Messi had a teammate who could compliment him with scoring and associating the way Grizi will be able to from day one. Putting those two together is practically a lock to create fireworks.
On the other hand, Griezmann has no natural place in the Barça starting lineup, and he doesn’t solve any of the more structural issues that have hampered Barcelona’s play where they most need help, in the Champions League. Griezmann came to prominence as a goalscoring wide man at Real Sociedad, but he became the giant he is today when finally placed in his best position as a second striker. Griezmann could return to his spot out wide at Barcelona and replace Philippe Coutinho or Ousmane Dembélé out on the left wing in the 4-3-3 Barça used most of last season, but putting him way out there would limit his game, wasting what he does best. On top of that, a front line of Grizi-Suárez-Messi has the same lack of space-attacking threat that has made Barcelona’s attack look so worryingly toothless in big away games in the Champions League.
Barcelona could use Griezmann’s addition as a way of phasing Suárez out of the starting XI. One of either Griezmann or Messi could play centrally, the other one taking up one wing, and Dembélé camping out on the other. This might look good on paper, but it would lack the referential forward ahead of them that Griezmann and Messi both need to thrive, and once again would suffer from the absence of a fast guy who wants to make runs in behind.
And all of that is before considering the elephant in the room, which is the strong possibility that Griezmann will be joined in Barcelona’s ugly, knockoff-Croatia-looking checkered kits by the prodigal son himself, Neymar. Neymar coming would probably necessitate Barça adopting the Suárez-less system mentioned above, swapping Dembélé out for Neymar. As a collection of talent that trio would be historically amazing; as a well-fitting collection of complimentary figures, it could potentially be awkward, with three guys all extremely good at doing essentially the same exact thing.
Barcelona signing Griezmann is exciting and promising and all that, but without knowing where Barça go from here, it’s still unclear of how wise it is and how successful it could prove. If Barça succeed in bringing Neymar back, then you’d probably bet on the outrageous gifts of that triumvirate to overcome any potential fit-related weirdness—though things ending in a Galáctico-esque disaster wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility. If Barça fail to get Neymar, you’d have to imagine they’d go after a new striker who’d hopefully be more of the kind of all-around center forward an attack built around Messi and Grizi would seem to cry out for, in which case the addition of Grizi could be close to ideal. And even if Barcelona don’t sign another forward at all this summer, and go into the season with Griezmann slotted in where Coutinho and Dembélé had been playing, you’d still have to make them legitimate contenders, if not favorites, to win the Champions League.
Just by signing Griezmann, Barcelona have gotten considerably better. But €120 million is a lot of money to spend on a great player whose presence asks as many questions as it answers.