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Messi, brilliant mastermind and magician: the sudden resurgence of Antoine Griezmann (Conclusion of a 2-Part series)

Apparently immediately after the embarassment, or more like humiliation, that Setien subjected Griezmann to against Atletito, it’s alleged that Messi had decided that enough was enough. He subsequently went to both men, striker and coach, and the conversation went:

“The best way for this to function, the way I see things improving, is if Antoine plays as a central striker with Luis, and I work in behind them in the No. 10 role.”

Messi knew that nobody was benefitting from the status quo as it stood right after the Athletico debacle. Griezmann had become understandably downcast and morose, having been humiliated by being on the bench until almost the final minute of the match.

Messi knew too that unless a grand miracle was to suddenly burst on the scene, there was no way Neymar was going to be arriving like the horsemen of the apocalypse in the summer, certainly not with Barca’s finances being in a totally unholy mess. And whether Lautaro Martinez would be making an appearance either was another topic of contention, due to the same sordid reasons. Factoring these into the equation as it was, Messi clearly had the presence and clarity of mind to understand that Griezmann, four years younger than him and even younger still than Suarez, still has the legs for the pressing, running into space and the innate capacity to occupy defenders which would, if things were to pan out as well as expected with Griezmann’s morale now boosted anew, should help make things turn around positively with desired results on the pitch.

Messi is certainly no newcomer to this kind of scenario and arrangement as he had been pivotal in catalysing what, against Espanyol, made Suarez effectively Barcelona’s third-highest all-time goal scorer. When the Uruguayan first arrived fresh from Liverpool, Messi had long been accustomed to playing centrally, regardless of whether one fancies tagging him as a centre-forward or false No. 9, it made no darned difference to the wizard. The fact remained that by the time Suarez was clear of his FIFA ban and fit enough to start matches, he was playing as a right winger. That’s life!

The perfect example that comes to mind is in the 2014 Clasico which Madrid won 3-1. Barca went 0-1 up when the Uruguayan, wide right, sent a long ball over to left-winger Neymar and their centre-forward, Messi, takes Luka Modric for a detour to create space for the Brazilian’s scoring shot. Fifteen days after that defeat in Madrid, Barcelona are playing in Amsterdam against Ajax in the Champions League, baying for blood.

Luis Enrique’s assistant coach, Robert Moreno, takes up the story:

“During the game Luis Suarez was out on the wing and Leo said to him: ‘Do you want to play in the middle?’ Messi strolled out to the touchline, asked Luis Enrique if he minded the switch, and the spontaneous idea started right there. Leo and Suarez combined to tell us where each of them would rather play and it brought so much success to the team. We pretty much re-organised everyone around that attacking partnership. We said to the others in the team: ‘Messi is super intelligent, he’s permanently analysing our rivals in-play and he’ll always put himself into spaces where he wants the ball. So when Leo has the ball … you go here, you go there, you make sure you’re in that position and so on and so on.'” They won 2-0 in the Amsterdam Arena that night.

This interplay and juggling of ideas, all flowing out so naturally and so effortlessly from Messi’s brilliant football mind, culminated six months later with Barcelona becoming the only club in history ever to win two Trebles. Suarez has also waxed lyrical about it too, paying sincere tribute to Messi’s extraordinary, uncanny powers of perception and his generosity in inviting this goal machine in the making to play as No. 9 instead of, ludicrously it now seems, wide on the right.

The situation now however isn’t identical. What had transpired then revolved around a Messi and Suarez who were nearly six years younger, much faster, with loads of stamina and juiced up with pure adrenaline in their veins – and with Neymar as their third swashbuckling Musketeer. Griezmann by all accounts isn’t, and neither has he ever pretended to be, Neymar. Yet, balance that up with Messi’s incredible football smarts in asking the coach to sanction a different positional play up front for Griezmann together with some interesting new developments which transpired over the last 10 days to haul Griezmann out of the mire of depression and a renewed striker is now eager to take on all rivals up front with Messi and Suarez.

Credit needs to be given to his former coach, Diego Simeone. At the end of the Athletico draw at Camp Nou when Griezmann, who knows his ex-teammates inside-out, couldn’t wait to have a bash at Los Colchoneros, was only brought on in the 90th minute. Postmatch, Setien had said he “wouldn’t spologise” to Griezmann and actually said that it was “difficult to find a place (for Griezmann) without destabilising the team.”

That’s a load of of balderdash for any coach worth his salt to say about a player with Griezmann’s proven track record.

On another front when asked that very same night about the way his former star player had been treated by being left on the bench until there were some loose final minutes left, Simeone said, “Sin palabras.” Many had interpreted his statement to be a polite “No comment” brush-off but it actually meant “I’m speechless!” It was evident that another Argentine, not just Messi, knew that Griezman was not being properly harnessed. This situation had luridcrous and unsustainable.

Kudos also to Luis Suarez for having the gumption to show that he was not going to be sunk by the experience Griezmann, perhaps unwisely, posted a picture on Instagram of him and his wife looking happy, basking cheek to cheek in the sunshine. Immediately there came a flurry of reactions from dolts criticising the posting along the theme that ‘he shouldn’t be happy, how can he smile at a time like this when Barcelona aren’t giving him a game!’ Unperturbed, Griezmann followed up with a post the very next day showing an image of him chasing a ball in training with an expression of determination and the message: “I like my job!” That’s the way, Grizzy!

Suarez, influential and revered in most quarters where Barcelona are supported – second only to Messi, of course – almost immediately joined in the friendly banter posting his reply that Griezman was: “Always positive and moving forward…”, accompanied by two ‘strong’ emojis and two footballs, it was nothing less than ‘Hey this dude’s one of my buddies so back off!”

That was positively massive and was immediately followed by Messi’s suggestion of the positional change which resulted in Griezmann’s overnight turnaround.

Messi and Suarez, in particular the former, have in no small measure extended their hands to Griezmann to rope him into their inner sanctum. Despite vicious rumors having circulated about Messi blatantly avoiding the Argentine, on the contrary the three men have been having dinners together with their wives in tow. So, what gives?

Last but certainly not least, the man whose job now seems to be on the line, who had proclaimed like a prophet of doom after the Atleti game that he couldn’t see how he could use Griezmann without damaging the harmony of Barca’s pristine XI, now has two games and two wins and a 5-1 aggregate under his belt,thanks in no small part to Messi having not control of the football club, but an immensely superior football intellect. Again he has clearly saved the day.

Andres Iniesta, the idol of many young talented footballers, not to mention loyal fans enamored of arguably football’s most talented midfielder and his incredible skills, has been reminiscing fondly about his old friend Lionel Messi and just why he stands a clear head and shoulders above every other player on the planet.

The midfielder was asked about the unavoidable constant comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo and elaborated on why he thinks Messi is superior by far to the Juventus star.

“Leo is different, unattainable. Everyone has their preferences and we like to make comparisons, but for me they are not comparable. Even if they score almost the same number of goals,” he said.

“For me Messi is number 1, because he has everything. Passing, assists, dribbling, goals, team spirit. He knows how to be decisive in almost every (department), and he has been for years. I never saw a player as decisive and strong as Messi.”

That, folks, says it all as clearly as it can be said. What would Barcelona be without Senor Messi?