Barcelona’s summer plans went up in smoke when Antoine Griezmann very publicly gave them the L in favour of sticking with Atletico Madrid. In a documentary that took inspiration from Lebron James’ “The Decision,” which aired on ESPN in 2010, we were given a glimpse into Griezmann’s personal life over the past few months as he played Fortnite, basketball and weighed up his options: sign for Barca or stay at Atletico.
His sister, Maud, who is also his agent, phoned him at one stage of the documentary. “Barca tell me they can’t pay you as much as Atletico have offered,” she said. “But they’ve said it’s been three years since they won the Champions League and they want to win it with you: it will be more difficult to win it with Atletico.”
Meanwhile, his partner Erika told him he would be the main man if he stayed at Atletico whereas he would just be “another player” at Barca.
Despite the fact that Gerard Pique’s company produced the documentary, the Catalan club had no clue what was going on. Up until very recently, they believed they would sign Griezmann for his €100 million release clause on July 1. They were optimistic they had his word. They were so confident that coach Ernesto Valverde was reassured this month that the deal would go through. Elsewhere, journalists closest to the club were told “Griezmann is coming,” which explains why the No.7 shirt had been kept vacant.
“Sorry to everyone who has followed what I have reported,” wrote a dejected Siqui Rodriguez on social media on Thursday, a radio journalist in Spain who had followed the Griezmann saga. “I believed he would sign for Barca. I promise to revise my sources and question what I am told. I try to speak with as many people as possible but I will do better in the future.”
Now that everything has reached a conclusion, regardless of what you think about Griezmann’s actions, Barca have been left with egg on their face. Just like last summer when they weren’t aware Neymar was leaving — players past and present have since admitted they knew at Lionel Messi’s wedding in June the Brazilian was off — they were left in the dark and unable to act.
At least this time they have the whole summer ahead of them, and an extra €100m to spend now that it won’t be invested in Griezmann.
Should they sign another forward?
Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Samuel Umtiti, Jordi Alba… there’s an endless list of Barca players who came out in favour of signing Griezmann. The overriding consensus was that while a forward wasn’t necessarily this summer’s top priority, Griezmann at &eurol100m was an absolute steal in the modern market. It was Griezmann they wanted, then, more than a forward per se. Suarez, Messi, Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho (if needed) should suffice. With that in mind, it’s unlikely they will no go out all guns blazing in search of another attacker.
But if they did pursue another forward, who would it be? Mohamad Salah’s name has been mentioned and Diario AS have even claimed the Egypt international’s agents have opened talks with Barca. But if Liverpool managed to prize €160m out of Barca for Coutinho in January, how much would they want for Salah, arguably the best player in Europe this past season?
Do Barca need a new No.9?
The elephant in the room is Suarez. Despite scoring 25 league goals, there’s an increasing concern that the 31-year-old is in decline, a point backed up by the fact he scored just once in 10 Champions League games last season.
However, replacing him outright at this stage, despite Catalunya Radio suggesting that some directors are in favour of doing so, is too risky. He can still offer a lot if he’s used more sparingly and who knows what damage breaking up his relationship with Messi could do?
Besides, is there a different No.9 on the market who could come in?
Invest in midfield
Ultimately, losing out on Griezmann could pave the way for a midfield revolution. Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta have both left now and Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Paulinho will all be 30 when the new campaign kicks off. Andre Gomes looks a goner and Denis Suarez has not yet proved himself.
Gremio’s Arthur is set to join in January in a €30m deal, but reinforcements are needed sooner. Mundo Deportivo insist that Ajax’s Frenkie de Jong is the man Barca really want, while supporters would love to see Thiago Alcantara return. Bayern look prepared to sell him but sources at Barcelona say he’s not a player at the top of their wish list right now. There have also been links to Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan as another option.
Someone who might feature highly on that list is Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen. The Denmark international would slot into midfield, allowing Coutinho to feature further forward with Suarez, Messi and Dembele. The problem? Negotiating with Spurs and Daniel Levy. Much like Salah, Eriksen would cost a fortune.
Elsewhere, Barca are also looking to strengthen in the middle of defence. They’re hopeful that Sevilla’s Clement Lenglet will come but they were hopeful with Griezmann, too.
A new backup goalkeeper and an understudy for Jordi Alba might be needed as well if Jasper Cillessen and Lucas Digne decide to move on. The money for that, though, would come from any sales, not the pot of gold designated for Griezmann.
Back to basics
A lot of people would prefer to see Barca steer away from signing for the sake of signing. If the players they want aren’t available, they ought to turn to the academy, an approach that served the club well under Pep Guardiola.
For example, there are a raft of left-backs who could cover Alba if Digne left, such as Marc Cucurella and Juan Miranda, as well as a few talented midfielders coming through. Carles Alena will be with the first team when he returns from injury but Riqui Puig, Oriol Busquets and Marcus McGuane are among the others to watch.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.