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Antoine Griezmann being sold to Barcelona by Atletico Madrid? Fine: but how are they going to pay for him?

A tough Tuesday for those behind the original 2018 Antoine Griezmann film La Decision which chronicled every conceivable aspect of his life in the build-up to his putative departure from Atletico Madrid and culminated with him announcing that, actually, nothing was changing.

The production team had got almost everything when it came to the elite footballer lifestyle; massive houses, massive tellies, home tattooing services, Fortnite addiction – just not the dramatic ending. Imagine how they must have felt when Griezmann surfaced on a video on Atletico’s website this week somewhat dazed and dishevelled, looking as though he had been dragged from his bed in the middle of the night by Diego Simeone’s famously combative assistant German Burgos.

No moody shots of him in a hoodie, no drone footage of his huge garden, but what a plot twist. Griezmann announced he will be leaving Atletico, although for reasons that will later become clear he cannot say where he is going. Witness-protection perhaps, given the startled look in his eyes and the fact that Burgos almost certainly knows where he lives.

Of course, all the signs point to Barcelona, who along with Real Madrid are being linked with every new hotshot or disenchanted superstar in Europe.

Griezmann has a buy-out clause of about €120 million (£105 million) in the contract that he signed at Atletico which kicks in on July 1. He says that, at 28, he is ready to leave the club, now 32 per cent owned by the Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer. But for where?

Atletico Madrid's French forward Antoine Griezmann attends a press conference at Metropolitano Stadium

Atletico Madrid’s French forward Antoine Griezmann attends a press conference at Metropolitano Stadium Credit: Rex

For their part, Barcelona have been very quiet, their financial situation similar to Real Madrid. The Catalan club are cash poor with nothing like the funds to make a signing of this size without cutting back elsewhere.

Their intermediary accounts for the first half of the season are overdue, although the full accounts will have to be submitted in time for the club’s general assembly in September when members will get a chance to question president Josep Bartomeu on the finances.

This month may well see Barcelona seal their second consecutive domestic double against Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on May 25. The league title is their eighth in 11 seasons. The question that remains is how they meet the wage bill that is coming at the end of June. They pay their players twice yearly, a total bill of €633 million spread across two payments becoming due at the end of January and the end of June. Last season they opened a €140 million credit line with a New York-based lender to cover that bill, and it may well be the same again this summer.

Even so, they need to wait until July 1 and hope that by then they can move on one or more of their squad – perhaps even Philippe Coutinho or Ousmane Dembele – to fund a summer rebuild. The most important part of the negotiation for Griezmann would be to persuade Atletico to accept that Barcelona pay for him in instalments. If Atletico want the money up front, then Barcelona have a problem.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu with Ronaldo

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu with Ronaldo Credit: Reuters

Not one that faces Paris St-Germain, or even the likes of Manchester City or Manchester United, as Barcelona will be aware. It was an embarrassment to the club last summer that Atletico were able to beat Griezmann’s €17 million annual wage offer from Barcelona. Strictly speaking, the great cinematic denouement to La Decision should have been Bartomeu staring out at the empty Nou Camp car park, while in the background someone played a sad, wistful arrangement on the office piano.

Barcelona are still run as a functioning members’ club accountable to their socios, as opposed to the faux democracy over which Real Madrid president Florentino Perez presides. Yet the financial problems are notably similar.

Neither have the kind of cash that the new-money clubs can wield for the marquee transfers, they have the two highest wage bills in European football, and both are struggling this summer to offload high-earning unwanted stars to make way for new names. Both clubs are very fortunate that La Liga rules absurdly do not include money owed to fellow clubs in transfer fees and add-ons among the debt carried by a club.

Under Barcelona’s constitution, should debt exceed a sum equal to twice that of their annual EBITDA [earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation], the board have two years to remedy the situation or, failing that, resign. Last year the club had just €40 million in cash at the end of June, forcing them to borrow in order to pay their twice-yearly wage bill.

At 28, Griezmann comes at a premium price. Playing for Atletico, the expectation was always that one or other of the big two would be in a position to sign him at some point, but for the salary, the transfer fee and the long-term value, he comes with considerable risk.

As ever with Real Madrid and Barcelona, the fans believe that the money will come from somewhere. Perhaps there is a market out there for Coutinho, which allows Barcelona to pay back their considerable liability to Liverpool and still get out with a profit. Perhaps they will eventually sell poor old Rafinha, who keeps coming back like a lucky peseta every time a transfer breaks down. But at some point this club will have to explain to its members that the funds to sign every available big name who declares he wants a transfer are not simply going to appear by magic.

Atletico, the great debt zombie, currently the owners of two stadiums and €506 million in the red, may yet just accept the instalments payment model and let Barcelona have Griezmann on credit. In the meantime, a window is open for the likes of PSG and others in the Premier League. Griezmann and his representatives clearly believe there is a move out there for him. The clock is now ticking for Barcelona to find that money.

Italian football can forget about global appeal until it cleans up act on racism

Moise Kean of Juventus celebrates his goal 0-2 during the Serie A match between Cagliari and Juventus 

Moise Kean was racially abused away at Cagliari. his teammate Leonardo Bonucci said “the blame is 50-50”. Bonucci clarified later that his comments had been misunderstood Credit: Getty Images Sport

The leading clubs in Italian football want to reinvent the Champions League in order to shore up broadcast revenues.

Serie A have played their Community Shield equivalent in the United States, China, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Libya.

In short, they are desperate for a bigger international profile for Serie A.

But when fans from around the world look at the Italian game and see the racism directed at the likes of Moise Kean, Blaise Matuidi, Alex Sandro, Kalidou Koulibaly and others they will make their own judgement.

They will see from the decisions of the Italian authorities that there is no justice for black players in Italy.

And while it is small comfort for those targeted, all we can say is that the modern world will draw their conclusions on Italian football, and its currently ludicrous ambition to have a global appeal.

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