New challenge at Barcelona set to be the toughest yet for Griezmann

Antoine Griezmann scored 94 in 180 league games for Atletico after joining from Real Sociedad in 2014. He expects his numbers to soar in the coming days. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2019
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New challenge at Barcelona set to be the toughest yet for Griezmann

  • Frenchman consolidates his place as ‘one of the best players in the world’

MADRID: Antoine Griezmann is likely to win the titles at Barcelona so far lacking in his club career but leaving Atletico Madrid brings few other guarantees, even for one of the world’s most talented players.
Griezmann’s long-anticipated move to the only team that finished above Atletico last season was confirmed on Friday, his €120-million ($135 million) release clause activated and a five-year contract signed.
“With his arrival,” Barcelona said in a statement on their website, “the Frenchman takes another step forward in his career with the goal of consolidating his place as one of the best players in the world.”
For Atleti, meanwhile, another star is lost and their hopes of absorbing this latest, and perhaps most crushing, departure of the close season may rest on the shoulders of 19-year-old Joao Felix, their €126-million arrival from Benfica.
Their fury at the manner in which the Griezmann deal was conducted was laid bare in a statement claiming the fee paid was “insufficient” and indicating they should be entitled to €200 million — the value of his release clause before the end of last month.
It means the saga is not over yet, but Atletico are used to adjusting. In contrast, at 28, Griezmann now faces the biggest challenge of his career, which boasts last year’s World Cup triumph with France, yet still not a single league title.
In that way, Barcelona, who have won La Liga eight times in the last 11 seasons, are something of a sure bet, so much so that finishing top of the table is no longer a barometer for success.
Instead, their Champions League humiliation by Liverpool might have been persuasive in going again for a player who not only rejected them last year but embarrassed them, his decision revealed at the end of a television documentary.
“My fans, my team, my home: Atletico Madrid,” Griezmann said then.
Josep Maria Bartomeu, Barcelona’s president, might have been able to forgive but the last few months would suggest others will need convincing.
When Atletico played at the Camp Nou in April, Griezmann was whistled by some Barcelona fans. When he went to take a corner, the chant came: “Griezmann, get out of the Camp Nou.”
The players were asked too, their responses coming back curt and irritable.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Atletico Madrid’s fury is at the manner in which the Griezmann deal was conducted was lies bare in a statement claiming the fee paid was ‘insufficient.’

• For Atleti, another star is lost and their hopes of absorbing this latest departure of the close season may rest on the shoulders of 19-year-old Joao Felix.

“I have no opinion,” said Lionel Messi. Gerard Pique, who was involved in the production of Griezmann’s documentary, was asked if he would take part in another this summer. “No, I won’t,” he said. “One was enough.”
Grudges can be quickly forgotten in football, by team-mates particularly, and when performances are good, by supporters too. But it could also swing the other way if he suffers a slow start.
The risk for Barcelona is small. Coach Ernesto Valverde needs to reduce his reliance on Messi and Luis Suarez for goals, particularly in the Champions League, where Suarez remains inexplicably inefficient.
Griezmann scored 94 in 180 league games for Atletico after joining from Real Sociedad in 2014 and could expect his numbers to soar in a team where chances are more frequent and defensive duties less demanding.


Wonderkid Fati: from African suburb to Barcelona’s Camp Nou

Updated 2 min 32 sec ago

Wonderkid Fati: from African suburb to Barcelona’s Camp Nou

  • Fati scored just two minutes into his full La Liga debut on a magical night when he hardly put a foot wrong in front of over 80,000 astonished Camp Nou fans who gave him a standing ovation
  • In Sao Paulo, his home neighborhood in the rundown suburbs of capital Bissau, the children yell Ansu Fati, Barca player! as they run around on ochre soil, under the tropical trees

BISSAU: Ansu Fati has made a long trip from the fields of Guinea-Bissau, where he played as a child, to Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium where the 16-year-old is playing with some of the biggest stars in the world.
Fati has made a stirring start to the season, scoring just two minutes into his full La Liga debut on a magical night when he hardly put a foot wrong in front of over 80,000 astonished Camp Nou fans who gave him a standing ovation as he left the field.
He was just seven years old when he first came to Spain and his startling talent meant he was invited to join Barcelona’s prestigious youth academy ‘La Masia’ aged 10.
It was an incredible achievement for a boy from the impoverished West African nation that has never been known for football.
In Sao Paulo, his home neighborhood in the rundown suburbs of capital Bissau, the children yell “Ansu Fati, Barca player!” as they run around on ochre soil, under the tropical trees.
Malam Romisio, who coached Fati as a child, told AFP how the boy used to play football wearing only socks or plastic sandals, easily dribbling the ball past bigger, stronger teammates.
When Fati made his debut with Barca’s first team at the end of August, the coach switched his allegiance from Real Madrid.
“If he continues like this, he will be a great player,” he predicted.
In Guinea Bissau, which is one of the world’s poorest and most fragile nations, Fati is a source of national pride.
Born on October 31, 2002, he lived in Bissau until he was six.
In the house where he grew up, Fati’s uncle Djibi Fati shows photos of the footballer as a child, dressed in traditional clothes, recalling how others used to tease him for his love of bread and butter.
“Every time he came back from playing football, he would ask for it,” he recalls.
When he was still very small, his father, Bori Fati, went to Portugal to look for work, later settling near Seville in southwestern Spain.
Bori picked olives, collected empty glasses in nightclubs and even helped build a high-speed rail track, recalls Amador Saavedra, who befriended him in Herrera, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Malaga.
It was only when the Communist mayor of Marinaleda, a nearby town, hired Bori as a driver and helped him financially, that he managed to bring his young family over in 2009.
“It’s a very beautiful story,” said Saavedra, 53.
Bori ended up training his young son at the Peloteros football school, which is free for thousands of children in Herrera and the surrounding towns.
When Fati arrived he quickly caused a sensation on the football pitch, said Jordi Figaroa Moreno, his first Spanish coach.
“He had a gift,” he told AFP. “The difference between him and his teammates was just huge, both technically and tactically. Among the youngsters, it’s rare to find children who can play as a team, but he had everything.”
Jose Luis Perez Mena, who runs the Peloteros school, described Fati as “very spontaneous” and “very cheerful” as well as “extroverted, but very quiet.”
His stellar success “has not gone to his head.”
Within a year of arriving in Spain, Fati joined Sevilla. In 2012, at the age of 10, he was enrolled in Barcelona’s youth system.
“Ansu was one of the youngest players ever to have entered La Masia,” said Marc Serra, his first coach at Barcelona.
“From the day that he arrived he was different, the type of player who invents football.”
In August, the teenager became the youngest player to score for Barcelona in La Liga. This month he became the club’s youngest player in a Champions League match.
Spain’s national coach Robert Moreno described Fati’s debut for Barcelona as “mind-blowing.” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde spoke of him as a “balanced boy” who is “at ease with himself.”
“We want him to learn to know himself, to know the first division, so he sees that it is hard and how much work and dedication it will take to succeed,” he said.
Speaking to Spain’s Onda Cero radio last month, his proud father said he had taught Fati to “be respectful and happy with everyone.”
“Every day I tell him: ‘This is your job: when you have the ball, turn toward the goal, don’t look anywhere else, and just shoot.”