Antoine Griezmann said goodbye to Diego Godín on Sunday and to everyone else three days later. Late on Tuesday night, a year after he renewed his contract, turning down the opportunity to join Barcelona, the Frenchman announced he would follow the captain out of Atlético. Godín, who bade farewell to the fans and his teammates after the penultimate game of the season, will join Internazionale; Griezmann hasn’t yet revealed his destination and there are a handful of offers, but inside the Metropolitano they anticipate that this time he will end up at the Camp Nou.
Griezmann met the club’s CEO Miguel Ángel Gil Marín, coach Diego Simeone and sporting director Andrea Berta on Tuesday and informed them of his decision. On 1 July his buyout clause drops from €200m to €120m, making them unable to prevent him from leaving or to influence which club he signs for. Twenty per cent of the clause goes to Real Sociedad, the club where Griezmann began his career, leaving Atlético €96m. He departs after five years, having scored 133 goals. Godín, Griezmann and Lucas Hernandez, who has signed for Bayern Munich, may be just the start of the exodus.
This had been coming. Griezmann agreed to continue at Atlético last summer instead of joining Barcelona when the buyout clause was €100m. He had an agreement in place to go to the Camp Nou should the clause be met but backed out at the last minute, signing a new contract until 2023 on €20m a year. The process, and the announcement, was broadcast in a documentary called The Decision, which showed him agonising over his future. And yet, the agreement to drop his clause to €120 from 1 July this year, meant it was not definitive – a door had been left open.
While Atlético had hoped to avoid it they were aware his camp had spoken to major clubs around Europe in the spring, including Barcelona. Negotiations with the Camp Nou club sought to revive that deal and there is interest too from PSG. Atlético sought an early answer and although he resisted telling his club where he was going, there was no turning back. It is inconceivable that Griezmann would have taken this step without his destination being resolved but he may wish to wait until 1 July to make it public.
“The club have worked hard for him to stay and we feel happy and enthusiastic about it,” Simeone said at the weekend but on Tuesday Atlético released a statement saying that Griezmann had informed them of his decision and a two-minute video of the striker appeared soon after. Standing alone as he explains the decision, Griezmann’s farewell could hardly be more different from Godín’s.
When Griezmann arrived for the final home game of the season against Sevilla, he did so wearing the club’s shirt, “Godín 2” on the back – in homage to the departing central defender.
The club captain, who is also the godfather to Griezmann’s daughter, had wanted to stay but decided to leave because of a club policy that limits contract renewals to a year for all players over 30. It is a policy that has caused some consternation within the squad.
Godín’s departure was announced at an event last week at which Griezmann was visibly affected and he was handed a guard of honour on to the pitch at the weekend. The Uruguayan was given a plaque after the game, by the club legend Luís Pereira. Godín has been at Atlético for nine years, and scored the goal that won them the league title in 2014. With his family on the pitch, he addressed the fans. He was given the bumps by the squad and handed a commemorative armband by the cub’s other three captains: Koke, Griezmann, and Juanfran.
Next season, of those four captains only Koke is likely to be there. Juanfran had said he did not want to speak before Godín’s day but he too has rejected a one-year renewal and will leave. He is the only player left from Simeone’s first starting XI. And there is a growing sense that this will be a summer of exodus, forcing a major rebuild. So far two players have arrived: Héctor Herrera and Felipe, both from Porto. All of this follows last year when the club captain Gabi left, and so did Fernando Torres.
The failure to reach the European Cup final in their own stadium – a target that appears to have tied players to the project, delaying departures, and something about which Griezmann spoke openly – may ultimately prove a watershed. Hernandez had agreed to join Bayern in January but that move was put on hold, eventually announced in the aftermath of Atlético’s elimination by Juventus. The German club have paid Hernandez’s €70m buyout clause. Now Godín, Griezmann and Juanfran have gone too.
Although goalkeeper Jan Oblak recently renewed his contract, there is uncertainty about other significant members of the squad. Filipe Luís has yet to be offered a new deal, leaving only José María Giménez of the typical back four. There have been offers for Saúl, who has not always been happy about his role. Simeone wants to keep Diego Costa but some at board level do not. And Rodri, like Hernandez, has a €70m buyout clause, which is an open invitation that some at Atlético are resigned to seeing accepted. Manchester City, Bayern and Barcelona are among those interested.
Griezmann’s buyout clause was also an open invitation – they always knew. He could have gone for €100m last year; less than 12 months later he could go for €120m and this time he will. “We hope he stays,” Koke said on Sunday, in the midst of the celebrations as Atlético said goodbye to Godín. “Hopefully one day he’ll get a send-off like this.” Instead, three days on, there was a video filmed on a mobile phone, Atlético Madrid’s best player standing there alone against a wall wearing a black T-shirt. “I’ve decided to leave,” he said.