I have been discussing with a lot of our fellow Barcelona Cules regarding the possible transfer of Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid in the upcoming summer. What was noticeable from those discussions is that a vast majority of us do not want this transfer to happen.
These are the most common reasons why the fans don’t agree with Griezmann’s arrival:
- We already have Ousmane Dembele who is a winger and he has a lot of potential and years ahead of him.
- With the arrival of Philippe Coutinho, we have already spent about 250 million in the 2017-18 season and Griezmann is going to be an additional 100 million to our expenditure
- It is not possible to fit Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Griezmann together in the same team. If we try to do so, then the team would be defensively exposed.
- We might be forced to give too many players game time as we need to keep everyone happy as they would be starters in any team in the world.
All of them seem to be fair points in someway and I could hardly disagree with one or two points mentioned above. But here is a different perspective to this whole scenario.
Key players ageing:
We need to keep in mind that the back bone of our team: Messi, Iniesta, Suarez & Busquets have been ageing and in the near future, if we want our life to be smooth then it is best to ensure that all of them are replaced one before its too late. As of now, the most eligible candidate to be replaced is Don Andres as he’s the oldest of the 4 players who I consider as our backbone. We have been smart enough to address this quickly as we have purchased Coutinho who’s at the peak of his career and hopefully, he would have fitted into the eleven by the time Iniesta hangs up his boots.
As you all know, Messi is probably the most complete footballer ever and he can simply be the goal-scorer, playmaker, a player who dictates the pace of the game or whatever he wants to. Hence over time, we can expect Messi to evolve himself into a completely different player (may be in midfield) and still be as important as he is right now.
As far as Busquets is concerned, he is the player who decides how the team performs on that day. We play good when he’s good and we look all over the place when he isn’t comfortable on the ball. Given that Busquets doesn’t have to physically exert himself every game, I personally don’t think we have to worry about replacing him as of now. Although he is 29 years old, we fans know the role of a defensive midfielder in our system. It is unlike how a defensive midfielder plays in the modern 4-2-3-1 or even in the 4-3-3 of other systems where being physical, covering distance and a lot of running would be necessary. In our philosophy, when Busquets is on the ball, it is all about dictating the pace of the game, changing focal point of attack, cut off passing lanes and so on. So I believe he’d be able to take care of this by himself for a minimum of another 3-4 years.
Suarez’s shaky form:
Moving on to Suarez, the man turns 31 years old in 2018 and we also need to remember that we play him 90 minutes almost every game of the season. The only games that Suarez misses are the suspensions after 5 yellow cards in La Liga or the initial stages of Copa del Rey (Round-of-32) where we go with the promising talents from our ‘B’ team. Another game he may sit out is in the UEFA Champions League group stages when we have already won the group and it is a dead rubber game.
To give you a detailed view of how much we use Suarez per season, lets look at the previous 2 seasons (as in 2014-15 he started only in October):
As you can see, in the 2015-16 season he started 35 games out of the possible 38 and played 90 minutes in all of the games he started. In 2016-17, he was handled more carefully with Luis Enrique ensuring that Suarez doesn’t get drained out by February or March. Hence was substituted off after playing 60-70 minutes in 9 games out of the 34 starts. The arrival of Paco Alcacer also helped Enrique give adequate rest to Suarez who was turning 30 in 2017.
In this season so far, Suarez has been part of 16 games out of the possible 19 and in just one game he was substituted in the 83rd minute. He missed the first 2 games owing to a knee injury and then rested for the Eibar game at home in which Barca triumphed 6-1. For the kind of form that Suarez has been in recently, people have forgotten the kind of goal drought he went through initially.
Luis Suarez in La Liga 2017-18
|First 8 games||3||1|
|Last 8 games||10||1|
Yes, Suarez has improved when it matters and he looks sharp going into the vital part of the season but that doesn’t change the horrible run of form he was in a month or two ago. There were issues with regard to his finishing and movement as he struggled to finish off chances and even to stay onside, in a few games. Here are a few examples of his finishing troubles early on in the season:
Miss vs Malaga:
Miss vs Olympiakos (Sorry for the poor quality) :
Miss vs Girona:
I am not trying to pick out individual moments to criticise Suarez or to prove that he is past his prime. He has shown improvement and looks much sharper, confident and raring to go in the recent weeks. But all that I am trying to say is that our Pistelero has definitely not been his usual self in the 2017-18 season and these are not pleasant signs given that he’s only going to get older from now. In football, there are many exceptions who got better with age, so growing older is not a 100% implied meaning that the game is going to get worse. But in the case of Suarez, it could be risky to bank on him getting better with age and the safer option would be to assume he could decline gradually in the next 1-2 years.
In football, when you assume that mistakes are going to happen, you are making yourself safer and avoiding risks. So it is possible that Suarez comes back to his devastating best and may even score another 30-40 goals in the next year or so. However, if the poor form he suffered in the beginning of this season repeats itself for a longer duration then we are going to be in trouble, no doubts!
How can Griezmann help?
The arrival of Griezmann is going to help us avoid the risk of depending on a possibly declining Suarez and the reasons why he can:
- Griezmann hasn’t been playing on the wing for over years now and he has adapted completely to the central area with an ability to excel as a centre forward and behind the striker.
- Griezmann has excellent close control, link-up play with one-touch passes, ability to create chances and play in short spaces. This is exactly what suits the Barcelona way of playing.
- Playing him in the centre in place of Suarez would mean his arrival will not affect other new signings such as Coutinho & Dembele.
- We don’t have to fit Messi, Suarez, Griezmann, Coutinho, Dembele all together on the same pitch at one go. Griezmann & Suarez can be rotated in the no.9 role with more importance given to Griezmann as at 31 years of age, it wouldn’t be fair for Suarez to ask for more playing time than a Griezmann who’s at the peak of his career.
- I also don’t think Suarez is a player who would fight for personal play-time given how he places the team’s interests ahead of his own. Having said that, we will have issues in case both Griezmann & Suarez hit form and only one of them can be picked.
- If that’s the case, then the right way to deal with it could be to pick Suarez or Griezmann based on the type of opponents.
A team which plays in deep defensive block with no gaps, Suarez could be a better option as he can receive the ball with a defender at his back, add physicality and shrug off defenders.
While if it’s a team that tries to press Barcelona higher up the pitch and stop them from building-up play from the back, Griezmann could be a better fit given his ability to run behind defences and make use of the space behind the opposition back-four.
- Another major advantage is that Griezmann knows the country, league and the kind of opponents he’d be facing. So the adaptation process would only be to the Barcelona system and not in terms of environment.
As far as the financials are concerned, in the 2017-18 season we have spent €324 million and received €227 million. This brings our net spend to about €97 million and adding to this would be the sale of Javier Mascherano, Arda Turan (loan with buy option) and the possible sales of Gerard Deulofeu, Aleix Vidal and Rafinha (loan with buy option). If we are able to successfully complete the deals mentioned above, then we are going to relieve us of our pressure on the wage bill. An important point to be noted is also that Barcelona have projected a record revenue of €897 million for the year 2017-18 and the last time we broke the record was only in 2016-17 with €708 million. Hence, we can be sure of having the affordability to shell out a €100 million from our pocket to bring one of the best forwards in football today.
There are very few players in the world who can fill the shoes of Suarez at Barcelona and in today’s market there’s no doubt that any top quality player is going to cost just as much. Why not go for the one who has proven it in La Liga, suitable to the Barcelona way of playing and at the peak of his career?