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Why have Atletico Madrid only played Antoine Griezmann after 60 minutes this season?

Three goals were scored in the Atletico Madrid-Porto Champions League meeting on matchday one of the 2022/23 season. All three of them in the added time of the second half. The winner came as late as the 101st minute. The scorer came on in the 61st minute of the match. He had gotten used to it. And to be frank, so had the thousands watching inside the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid, and the millions watching on screens around the world.

Nothing has been as certain about this football season as the clock striking 60 and Antoine Griezmann coming on as a substitute for Atleti. In six appearances this season, he has never once stepped on the playing turf before that mark, making for only 165 minutes of playing time. Terrific as he is, the 31-year-old has scored three goals in that amount of time, including two eventual winners for the Spanish club. This hasn’t been a thought out tactic deployed to win matches. More of a financial constraint to be dealt with.

A clause in Antoine Griezmann’s contract when he moved from FC Barcelona to Atletico Madrid on a two-year loan deal last season has forced the latter to limit his playing minutes on field.

What is the clause?

Atletico Madrid are obliged to sign Griezmann permanently for €40m from Barcelona, if he plays more than 50% of the games over the two years part of the loan deal. Playing a game is considered to be an appearance for half a match or more, i.e. 45 minutes or more.

A clause in Antoine Griezmann’s contract when he moved from FC Barcelona to Atletico Madrid on a two-year loan deal last season has forced the latter to limit his playing minutes on field. (AP)

The matches to be taken into account for the same will be the ones in which the Frenchman is available for selection and not ruled out owing to injury, suspension, etc. So Atletico won’t be able to include the eight La Liga games Griezmann missed due to injury last season or the Champions League fixture he was suspended for.

Will Atletico sue Barca?

There is a grey area in the contract that has caused a bit of a dispute already with one season to go before it expires. As per reports, Barcelona claim the clause has already been triggered in effect as Griezmann featured for at least 45 minutes in 81% of the games he was available for last season. Hence, the club is looking to sue Atletico for the breach of contract.

Atletico on the other hand are of the belief that the mandatory clause shall only be activated if Griezmann plays at least 45 minutes in 50% of matches ‘across’ his two seasons on loan.

Antoine Griezmann timings this season.

One might ask, why Atletico have been bringing on Griezmann after the 60 minute mark and not in minute 46 or 47 to maximize his impact and make the most of a certain loop hole in the contract. This is where his current club are playing it safe.

Football matches extend more than just 45 minutes a half, at times even as much as 56 minutes like it did when Atletico played Porto. The vague nature of the text in the contract may allow Barcelona to argue that by ‘45 minutes’ or ‘half a game’, they meant the overall minutes including the added time past the 90 minute mark. An argument that if deemed valid, will lead to the clause getting closer and in Barcelona’s favor. Hence the safety measure of the 60 minute mark.

How did it come to this?

By the end of the 2021 summer transfer window it was certain that Barcelona wanted to sell Griezmann, after the €120 million buy from two years ago didn’t materialise as expected for the Catalan club. This, added with the enormous financial debt the club was in, owing to which they had to let Lionel Messi leave for Paris. Club President Joan Laporta was under enormous pressure to sustain funds for wages. Griezmann’s 17 million euros/year salary was a sizeable chunk. Hence, a deal, on the deadline day of the transfer window.

It was initially supposed to be a swap deal. Antoine Griezmann for Joao Felix. But Diego Simeone was adamant on keeping Felix and not strengthening a rival team. In came a loan deal. Atletico would pay 100 percent of Griezmann’s fees for the two seasons and at the end of it, if the mandatory clause isn’t broken and Atletico don’t opt to make the deal permanent, the player would return back to Barcelona to fulfil the term left in his contract running till 2024.

Where do the clubs stand?

Such was Barca’s desperation to end their association with Griezmann that they were willing to annul their €120 million transfer investment funded by a short-term €35 million bank loan and €85 million mortgaging of future income with a loan deal. The club finances have only gotten worse and another €20m to be paid in salary would take up a large chunk of Barcelona’s LaLiga spending limit.

Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann controls the ball during a match. (AP)

The pressing reports of them wanting to sue Atletico further emphasizes on how much Barcelona want nothing to do with the 2018 World Cup winner with France. “There is no debate here, we think he is an Atletico Madrid player,” manager Xavi said in a recent press conference.

Atletico manager Diego Simeone on the other hand has publicly expressed his interest in retaining Griezmann at the end of the two year term. His performances under the narrowest of playing minutes highlight why. That they need him to compete with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and other big European super clubs is also understandable. The finances however, may not allow the same. Even though their financial situation may not be as dramatic as Barcelona’s, Atletico Madrid are walking on thin ice.

Earlier this summer, Atletico President Enrique Cerezo admitted that the club needed to raise, get this, ‘€40 million’ in player sales before they could start to strengthen their squad. At over €300 million, the club’s wage bill across players and coaching staff is far more than they can afford right now. Simeone, who himself is the highest-paid coach in European football (24 million euros/year), may not have much say in the matter when Griezmann’s loan term comes to an end.

A tug of war it seems as of now, with none of the two wanting to pull the rope.

What does it mean for Griezmann?

Not only does his club destination look uncertain in a year’s time, Antoine Griezmann’s place in the World Cup later this year is under the clouds owing to him getting to play only short cameos. It would be a tough ask of the defending champions to play a forward with less to none 90 minute match experience in the build up to the tournament right in the middle of the annual season.

Atletico Madrid, the club where he’s made most appearances and scored most goals for, would no doubt be the more suited destination for the player. And it does seem like Griezmann’s choice as well. “I just want to play here and give everything for the club, for Cholo and for the fans,” he had said after scoring one of his winners recently.

There are, though, a number of ifs and buts to go through before that happens. Age doesn’t weigh heavily in the Frenchman’s as well. To pay €40 million minus wages for a 32-year-old attacking player would be a tough call for the club.

The entire case can be best put in five words from its protagonist, “It is what it is.”

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