The Europa League final on Wednesday should be the ultimate “boy done good” story for Antoine Griezmann.
A night when, if he seizes greatness against Marseille, the achievement will shimmer with something special.
The glow of a local hero returning “home” to show precisely how big a loss he was to the club which, somehow, let him slip through their hands.
The equivalent might be if the European Cup final of 1968 had been hosted at Pittodrie and Manchester United, led by Denis Law – who missed the game through injury – beat Benfica there in front of thousands of adoring Aberdonians.
Griezmann is hot, hot property. At Real Sociedad he averaged 11 goals a season – since moving to join Los Colchoneros in 2014 he’s hitting an average of 28 per season (with games left.
The 30 million euros Atlético spent on him now looks like peanuts.
La Real scouted the French kid, brought him to Spain, taught him, developed him and, meanwhile, began to show Lyon their incredible folly.
Griezmann was, is and always will be a huge Lyon supporter. He lived in Macon, less than an hour’s drive north from Olympique’s stadium.
He’d go to matches wearing a Sonny Anderson shirt … but OL rejected him for their youth system because, wait for it, they thought he was too small.
Lyon now have a fancy new stadium. It’s modern, just right for hosting a European final and although they are petrified hostile southern enemies Marseille will bring fans hell-bent on destroying the Stade Lyon facilities, it’s still a night of huge pride for them that Atleti face Marseille in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes capital.
Especially when a fanatical Les Gones fan will be leading the line for one of the combatants.
It’ll be Griezmann’s last big moment of the domestic season before he tries to take Les Bleus, Didier Deschamps dark-horse France side, to victory in the Russian World Cup.
Could France become world champions?
Naturally, they stand a far better chance if the 27-year-old striker, who could be paired up front with the outstanding Kylian Mbappé or perhaps his fellow Atleti forward Kevin Gameiro, is sharp, clinical and clear-minded.
It’s precisely why Griezmann has told FC Barcelona his future must be sorted before the Russian tournament kicks off in Moscow on June 14.
“I want to know if I’m staying, or leaving, before going to the World Cup,” he confirmed recently. “I want a clear head.”
Hence the problem overshadowing Griezmann’s and Atleti’s preparation to try to win their third Europa League in the last eight years.
Atleti have caught Barcelona with their hand in the till and trying to nick their takings. They’re furious.
Griezmann nearly left Atleti for Manchester United last summer.
He had a last-minute change of mind, partly losing faith in Jose Mourinho’s tactics and partly out of loyalty to Diego “Cholo” Simeone, who beseeched him to stay and partner Diego Costa up front for Atleti.
Since January the Brazilian-Spaniard with the temper of a hungry Grizzly bear and self-restraint of a Friday night Union Street drunk, became eligible to play for Los Rojiblancos and that pairing has been immense.
The Frenchman hit five in five months in La Liga pre Costa – 14 in three months once the ex-Chelsea man began growling and snarling at defenders for him.
Atleti are the wounded party because they’ve twice caught Barça sneaking around engaged in what used to be called “tapping up”.
In December, on TV post-match, Barça’s spokesman, Guillermo Amor, said: “perhaps we got close to Griezmann’s people – that’s the club’s job.”
That was replying to a story claiming Barça were tempting Griezmann’s sister, who represents him, with the salary the striker would earn by joining this July.
Atleti raged, Barça apologised, the alleged “complaint to Fifa” didn’t materialise.
Tempers settled. The matter went back behind closed doors.
Barça, for their part, remained absolutely committed to what has become recognised as the Bayern Munich tactic.
Identify a superb player at one of your rivals, buy him, improve your starting XI. Weaken your enemy.
Now given you and I support a club that needs to be shrewd in taking the likes of James Maddison and Ryan Christie on loan rather than splashing out even hundreds of thousands of pounds on permanent signings, you may well be shouting: “Just hold on a minute, Graham!”
And, yes, you’re right.
Barça, once well enough guided (by the Johan Cruyff philosophy) to produce Carlos Puyol, Victor Valdés, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Pedro and Leo Messi for not one single thin dime of a transfer fee, DID just spend in the region of 240m (yes, two hundred and forty MILLION) euros on Phillipe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé.
Now they fancy lashing out another 100m on Griezmann’s buy-out clause. A running total of 340m on three footballers.
That will make Atleti a tidy 70m profit but their current fury stems from Luis Suarez, asked if he fancied competition from the Frenchman at the Camp Nou next season, saying: “He’s coming to achieve important things with the best team in the world.”
Then Barça’s President, Bartomeu, admitted “talking to Griezmann’s agent in October”. Further ammunition for Atleti.
Apparently Atleti are now going to claim this all constitutes transfer moves for the player at a time when the buy-out clause in Griezmann’s contract is 200m. It halves to 100m on July 1.
Honestly, the rest of Spain is going to be falling about in malicious laughter as Atleti try to squeeze an extra hundred million out of the reigning champions amid hostile publicity and the world joining in with your chorus of “didn’t Barça once produce world-class talent from their ‘trademark’ la Masia academy?”
It’s up to Griezmann to ensure the fuss doesn’t stop him becoming a local hero in Lyon on Wednesday – or a national hero for France in Russia.
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