Griezmann to Barcelona: Another saga to take the shine off 'Mes que un club'

By Sports Desk July 12, 2019

Antoine Griezmann's €120million switch from Atletico Madrid is every inch the modern Barcelona blockbuster transfer – something that does the player and the club no credit at all.

A week ago, like clockwork, Atleti's statement arrived, expressing "the strongest disapproval of the behaviour of both [parties], especially FC Barcelona" as they accused LaLiga's champions of reaching terms with their most-prized forward in March.

The next part of the dance followed last Sunday, when Griezmann somewhat inevitably failed to turn up for training with Atletico. His no-show was very much in keeping with that of fellow France international Ousmane Dembele, who was suspended for going AWOL at Borussia Dortmund before joining Barca for €105m in August 2017.

During the same month, Philippe Coutinho was out of action with Liverpool, purportedly due to a back problem that did not prevent him from playing for Brazil at the start of the following September. It came to look more like a crude attempt to force the €160m move to Barcelona that arrived in January 2018.

Like Dembele and Coutinho, Griezmann is in part Barcelona's latest attempt to fill the void left by Neymar – an endeavour so fruitless the club appear to have concluded there is only one effective remedy.

The Brazilian superstar is reportedly ready to cut his reputational losses at Paris Saint-Germain and return to Catalonia. Of course, he didn't turn up for training this week.

Neymar's earth-shaking exit to PSG two years ago has not only defined who Barcelona's targets must be, but also how they must be sought. If Josep Maria Bartomeu and his board felt bullied by the Ligue 1 giants brazenly meeting the forward's €222m release clause, their response has been to become the biggest bullies in the playground.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that Barcelona's three most-expensive signings in their history have all effectively gone on strike to engineer a move, but there is a point at which it starts to look like an established plank of transfer policy and a grubby one at that.

It certainly jars with Barca's 'Mes que un club' ideals and its inference of some sort of higher moral standard. In fact, the present direction of travel is more in tune with peak-Galacticos era Real Madrid.

Of course, all transfer manoeuvrings stand and fall by results on the field. Over the past two seasons, form and fitness respectively have contributed towards Dembele and Coutinho failing. It mattered little in LaLiga, where Ernesto Valverde's cool-headed pragmatism brought back-to-back titles.

But in the Champions League there have been collapses of crushing humiliation at Roma and Liverpool. Griezmann's job will be to guide Lionel Messi to a fifth title in Europe's premier competition when the waters become choppy, many of his new team-mates having shown themselves to be incapable of manning the life rafts.

A starring role in France's 2018 World Cup triumph, having steered Atleti to Europa League glory in the same year, displayed he undoubtedly has the pedigree to do so. An effortlessly stylish footballer, Griezmann's inner steel harnessed in his years under Diego Simeone also should not be underestimated. He should lift a Barca that downed tools at the Stadio Olimpico and Anfield.

On the other hand, the 28-year-old's fondness for starring in his own documentaries hints at a soon-to-be untamed ego that could come into conflict with Valverde, establishing further common ground with Dembele alongside playing Fortnite and setting your own training schedule.

It will be fascinating to see how Griezmann's move to Camp Nou plays out and football to dazzle and delight will follow if things click. If they don't, the conduct of player and club mean plenty will be ready to delight in the failure.

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    Matthijs de Ligt was left bemused by transfer stories circulating about him before his move to Juventus, particularly one concerning Manchester United and fears about his weight.

    The Netherlands international completed a move to Juventus on Thursday in a deal that could cost the Serie A champions €85.5million.

    De Ligt, 19, had been one of the most in-demand young players in the world following his exceptional performances as captain of Ajax, who won the Eredivisie and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season.

    He was linked with a possible move to United until a story emerged in the Daily Mirror suggesting a scout had warned the Red Devils off making a bid as De Ligt would be susceptible to gaining weight as he got older, like his father.

    De Ligt says such claims left him truly baffled, even amid the persistent speculation over where he would be playing football next season.

    "Every day, there was something new," he told Voetbal International. "Suddenly, even my father was too fat and that's why one of the clubs wouldn't want me. That makes you go, 'Come on, man...'"

    There was another rumour De Ligt turned down Paris Saint-Germain because he wanted a higher wage than Kylian Mbappe, something he previously told Algemeen Dagblad was "insane".

    "Money played no role at all in my choice for a new club," he said. "Everyone who knows me, knows that. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I will respect that, but some people were saying things like that [PSG story] very easily."

    De Ligt is the latest high-profile player to secure a big-money transfer through the hugely successful agent Mino Raiola, who counts Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco Verratti among his clients.

    "He has a lot of experience," De Ligt said of Raiola. "I think there may be a certain negative image of him in Holland, but I certainly don't experience it that way.

    "I think if you ask all of his players if Mino does a good job for them, everyone would say yes. That's the most important thing. It's not about what other people say about him, it's about what he can do for me."

  • Shane Lowry's glorious Portrush triumph lays Oakmont demons to rest Shane Lowry's glorious Portrush triumph lays Oakmont demons to rest

    One word was prevalent ever since Shane Lowry surged into contention at The Open this weekend. Oakmont.

    "Oakmont was so long ago and I was a lot younger," Lowry said after moving into a co-share of the lead on Friday.

    "I feel like if I get the opportunity this week I'll be better. It definitely won't affect me, what happened in Oakmont."

    Amid the chanting, raucous cheers and sheer euphoria that greeted Lowry walking off the 18th green at the conclusion of the greatest round of his life at Royal Portrush on Saturday, there was an unsettling sense of deja vu due to his four-stroke advantage.

    Three years ago, Lowry held the same lead going into the final 18 holes of the U.S. Open. He had one hand on the trophy, a major breakthrough in his grasp.

    Yet in golf things are never that simple and that fateful Sunday just outside of Pittsburgh was dragged back to the fore for Lowry this week.

    The pressure of holding a significant lead in a major for the first time was evident. Lowry never recovered from a difficult start at Oakmont and struggled to a six-over 76, eventually finishing three shots adrift of Dustin Johnson – who himself had to endure a nervy penalty-shot controversy to win what is to date his only victory in one of golf's big four.

    However, at Portrush, Lowry only fleetingly betrayed his insistence that no mental scars remained from the most painful of experiences. A wayward drive down the first and an approach into the greenside bunker leading to an opening bogey would surely have had his heart rate skyrocketing.

    Lowry is a different man to three years ago, though. He has a young daughter, Iris. His priorities and perspective have changed.

    "If I'm sitting here this time tomorrow evening it will be one of the biggest things that ever happened to me, there's no denying that," Lowry commented in a news conference on Saturday.

    "But I just felt at the time in Oakmont my golf meant a lot more to me back then than it does now. I'm not saying that it doesn't mean everything, it's my career. But I've got certain things in my life that make it different. I've got family now. No matter what, my family will be waiting for me."

    It has been a long journey back to this point. After missing the cut at last year's Open, for the fourth time in succession, Lowry slumped to a ranking of 92nd. 

    Following the first round at Carnoustie 12 months ago, there was a pretty blunt declaration from Lowry.

    "I'm not enjoying my golf at the minute, and my golf is not really enjoying me and that's the way it is, and it's hard to take," he said.

    There was a recognition change was needed. Lowry split with long-time caddie Dermot Byrne in September and there has been a huge upturn in fortunes with new man on the bag Brian 'Bo' Martin, who grew up around two hours away from Portrush in Ardglass.

    Victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January, after which an emotional Lowry spoke about a "tough couple of years on the golf course", preceded top-10s at the RBC Heritage, US PGA Championship and Canadian Open.

    "With Bo I find I play golf now like there's no consequences, you know what I mean? You need to hit shots like there's no consequence," explained Lowry.

    "What's the worst thing that can happen? If I swing the club here and hit the ball, no matter where it goes, what is the worst thing that can happen to you? That's kind of the mindset he brings into it. That's when I play my best. That's the way I am. I think we gel together nicely that way.

    "I think as a golfer you have such a long career, well, hopefully you have such a long career, I've been [a professional for] 10 years now and it's just a rollercoaster.

    "I think the reason I'm so good mentally now is I feel like I know how to take the downs."

    There was no bigger down in Lowry's career than Oakmont three years ago. Now, standing a Champion Golfer after an astounding six-shot victory, there is no greater high.

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    He will, at some point after what will no doubt be a hefty celebration, go to bed with the Claret Jug, fresh in the knowledge the demons of Oakmont have been truly banished.

  • The Open 2019: How the final round unfolded as Shane Lowry stormed to Portrush triumph The Open 2019: How the final round unfolded as Shane Lowry stormed to Portrush triumph

    Shane Lowry held his nerve magnificently under pressure to claim his first major title at The Open.

    The Irishman secured a hugely popular success at Royal Portrush, finishing six shots clear of Tommy Fleetwood after following up his sensational third-round 63 with a one-over 72 that was arguably even more impressive given the challenging weather conditions and the magnitude of Sunday's final 18 holes.

    Lowry had begun the fourth round leading by four at 16 under, with Fleetwood his nearest challenger.

    We look at how the last day unfolded.

     

    1:47pm BST - The final pairing of Lowry and Fleetwood tee off in rising winds, with Rickie Fowler and JB Holmes having already gone out of bounds on the first. Lowry and Fleetwood both avoid that horrible fate, although the Irishman's tee shot is a nervous one into the rough on the left.

    2pm - Having struggled badly on the opening hole, finding the bunker with his second and then coming up short with both his third and fourth shots, Lowry shows resilience to drain a six-footer for his bogey. That means his lead is only cut by one stroke, with Fleetwood having missed a presentable birdie opportunity.

    2:26pm - Lowry's lead becomes four strokes once more as Fleetwood's cold start with the putter continues, the Englishman missing a short par-saver on the third. Meanwhile, Lee Westwood picks up a shot at the fifth - having earlier pitched in for birdie at the third - to trail by five.

    2:39pm - The leader stretches his advantage over Fleetwood to five, birdieing the fourth after a fine approach shot. In the penultimate group, Brooks Koepka makes a spectacular eagle on the fifth. However, that comes after he had bogeyed each of the first four holes. At seven under for the tournament, he is nine behind Lowry.

    2:51pm - As conditions worsen at Portrush, Fleetwood can only birdie the fifth despite leaving himself a fairly short eagle putt. Lowry matches his partner's three to reach 17 under and remain five clear.

    3:22pm - Fleetwood gets up and down from a greenside bunker at the seventh to save par, but Lowry makes a tap-in birdie, his third gain in four holes. At 18 under, he leads by six and is in command of the tournament.

    3:57pm - After he and Fleetwood had each bogeyed the eighth amid a burst of torrential rain, Lowry gives up another shot at the ninth to turn in a level-par 36. A fine up-and-down sees Fleetwood end the outward nine with a par and sit five off the pace, with Westwood two further back after a bogey at 11. Everyone else appears to be out of the running.

    4:31pm - Lowry's wobble continues as he follows up a gutsy par save at the start of his back nine with a third bogey in four holes at 11. However, he remains five clear of Fleetwood, whose putter let him down from close range at the 10th. Westwood's race is run as he slides back into the group at seven under, eight off the pace.

    4:51pm - Fleetwood reduces his deficit to four shots for the first time since the third hole, courtesy of a two-putt birdie at the par-five 12th.

    5:20pm - Despite making his fifth bogey of the day at the 14th, Lowry finds himself five clear once more as Fleetwood drops two shots. After finding a bunker off the tee and heavy rough with his second, the Englishman looks to have left himself with too much to do.

    5:32pm - Lowry makes a brilliant birdie at the 15th to move further clear, extending his lead to six with just three holes to play. The crowd favourite celebrates with a determined fist pump.

    6:09pm - The crowd at Royal Portrush goes wild as a beaming Lowry finishes with his third par in a row to complete a round of 71 and triumph by six strokes.

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