Antoine Griezmann can protect his Atletico Madrid legacy by winning them the Europa League
Some Atletico Madrid supporters are hoping Antoine Griezmann will get so carried away on Wednesday night in Lyon, winning the Europa League with Atletico, that he will change his mind about moving to Barcelona and stay at the club.
With the agreement between the French international and the Catalan club so far down the line, that seems highly improbable. It appears that he is not playing to decide his future on Wednesday, he is playing to decide his legacy: how will Atletico supporters remember him?
They burned Sergio Aguero’s shirt during a Europa League game against the Norweigan side Stromsgodset in 2011 after the forward left them for Manchester City. There were songs about him dying, they chanted ‘pesotero’ (money-grabber) and banners were held up.
He had scored 101 goals for them in 234 games but it was an open secret that he wanted to join Real Madrid and the supporters who had once adored him never got beyond that.
The only time during that game against Stromsgodset when the Atletico supporters stopped abusing Aguero was when they started venting their anger at David De Gea. He was another player they sensed, with some justification, wanted to play for Real Madrid. His departure to Manchester United was greeted in much the same was as Aguero’s to City.
Atletico supporters don’t forget. They whistled Griezmann earlier in the season when it became clear he was angling for a way out of the club. But a lot has changed since the turn of the year and if he puts in a performance in Lyon – just 60 miles from the town of Macon where he grew up – then he can leave his ‘other’ home Atletico Madrid, with his head held high.
Several Spanish media set their stall up in Macon this week, investigating 36 Rue de Bourgogne the house where he grew up and visiting the George Brassens school he attended as a boy who loved watching David Beckham and Fernando Torres and hoped one day to follow in their footsteps.
He had a trial at Lyon but they told him to come back a year later when he was bigger, taller and stronger. It was their loss. Aged 13 he moved to Real Sociedad who will take a deserved chunk of his transfer fee if he moves to Barcelona.
His dad used to take him to watch Lyon play in the Champions League in their old Stade de Gerland. He scored one of the goals of his career their playing for Real Sociedad in 2013.
His Parents were there to see that scissor kick volley in the Champions League and they will be at the new ground on Wednesday. ‘There will be a lot of them watching. I hope it’s a happy final,’ he said this week.
Griezmann doesn’t just owe Atletico supporters he owes his coach Diego Simeone. He was a skinny winger with an eye for the occasional goal when he turned up in 2014. His manager has converted him into one of Europe’s most complete strikers.
He can come short for the ball, he can run on to balls over the top. He can win aerial duels with far bigger defenders, he can assist and he can score. His goal at the Emirates was huge in terms of putting Atletico into this final.
No one would be surprised if the Spanish didn’t win again by a single goal on Wednesday and if it came from the Frenchman, or from his partner in attack Diego Costa.
‘He was the one who persuaded me to come back so he can’t leave me now,’ said Costa recently when asked about his team-mate’s possible move.
‘He’s my number 9 and I attempt to give him the ball in the best possible positions,’ Griezmann said this week.
Costa knows what it’s like to leave, and to come back. He said in the build-up to this final: ‘I went to Chelsea and I was lucky enough to return. But he knows that if he goes there is no guaranteed return. The fans love him here so I just hope he thinks about it calmly.’
Costa bowed out having delivered the league title. He went for reasonable money and he never entertained the idea of moving to Real Madrid – better still he quit La Liga so he never had to play against Atletico in the domestic competition.
Griezmann looks set to stay in Spain but he did try to leave the country. He would have gone to Manchester United last summer had Atletico not been banned from registering new players. He stayed in their hour of need agreeing to have his buy-out clause bumped up to 200m euros. They ought to remember that.
But most of all they will remember what he does on Wednesday night.
He goes back to Macon – just a 45 minute drive from Lyon – with his Griezmann Challenge soccer schools regularly and is always welcomed with open arms. How will Atletico Madrid fans not be able to treat him the same way if he leaves with a winner’s medal on Wednesday evening.