Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi never quite hit it off at Barcelona and now the Frenchman has to leave the club so that Messi can stay.
News of Messi having agreed to a 50 percent pay cut on a new five-year deal was leaked on Wednesday, largely to encourage sponsors to continue to commit to Barcelona as they try to haul themselves out of the financial mire.
The deal will happen but it will take time because for them to be able to pay Messi even half of what he previously earned they need to make massive savings elsewhere. Getting Griezmann off the wage bill is a start.
Griezmann’s contract at Barcelona is heavily incentivised but with bonuses a basic salary of €12m rises to €20m, Saul will join for considerably less than half that sum, a saving that will go some way to help the club pass LaLiga’s financial fair play rules.
They will then be allowed them to register Messi and his national team-mate Sergio Aguero as well as Eric Garcia, Emerson and Memphis Depay.
There are not solely football reasons for ditching Griezmann. His record of 35 goals in 99 games is decent and he was instrumental in Barcelona’s only trophy last season, the Copa del Rey.
It would make more sense for Philippe Coutinho or Ousmane Dembele to be sold but with both injured that looks impossible this summer and so Griezmann has been pushed into the market.
No bids have been forthcoming and even if they had, the player was reluctant to leave Barcelona for the Premier League. If he was going to leave he wanted it to be back to his former club and the swap with Saul Niguez suits just about all parties.
Griezmann has never stopped being in close contact with his former Atletico Madrid team-mates. There was texting in his first season and he even indicated to them that he’d made a mistake and would not be against returning. He is currently on holiday in Ibiza with Koke, ready to fly back when the deal is done.
Atletico can’t believe their good fortune. It was Luis Suarez last season and now it’s Griezmann. The club’s supporters will be divided at first. Some will not want to forgive the player who left them in 2019 but others will see a chance to win a second straight title boosted by the arrival of someone who has already shown he can score 20 goals a season for the club.
Diego Simeone will persuade the doubters – this is too good an opportunity to spoil with grudges. Diego Costa, Felipe Luis and Fernando Torres all went elsewhere and returned, why should it be different for Griezmann?
Barcelona president Joan Laporta is understandably concerned that this could be Suarez II. If it was bad watching the Uruguayan win the league with Atletico last season how will it feel if Griezmann does it next year? But he has been advised by Barcelona’s director of football Mateu Alemany that the club is not in a position to say no.
It would sweeten the pill if Atletico paid money as well as sending Saul but they are not prepared to do that. There has also been talk of including more players in the deal but Barcelona are already struggling to register the players they have acquired so far this summer and more would only swell the wage bill more.