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Jul 28, 2014

Griezmann another coup for Atletico

Atletico Madrid have agreed to sign Real Sociedad midfielder Antoine Griezmann.

As Atletico Madrid confirmed the signing of Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad on Monday, there was a strange feeling among the Vicente Calderon faithful.

The vultures from bigger clubs have been circling since the start of the summer, ready to pick off star players Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Koke, while it was no secret that Thibaut Courtois would eventually return to Chelsea. The rock solid duo of Diego Godin and Miranda were expected to move on, and it seemed as if last season was going to be a flash in the pan.

Yet after the France international's arrival, it looks like Diego Simeone's squad could in fact be stronger by the start of the new campaign than it was 12 months ago. Nobody would have thought it possible.

After getting Koke to sign a new deal and directly replacing the aforementioned, now-departed trio with Mario Mandzukic, Guilherme Siqueira and Jan Oblak, coach Simeone now has an attack -- or more specifically a front three -- that can rival anyone's in Mandzukic, Arda Turan and Griezmann.

Griezmann will offer pace and menace from either wing -- just what Atletico need.
Griezmann will offer pace and menace from either wing -- just what Atletico need.

What many people forget is that Los Rojiblancos, and not city neighbours Real Madrid nor Barcelona, are the current La Liga champions. They were two minutes away from winning the Champions League, and possess in Simeone perhaps the most highly rated coach in Europe right now. Convincing players to stay and attracting new names was never going to be a huge problem.

Griezmann might lack the "Galactico" status of a James Rodriguez or Luis Suarez, but he certainly represents superior value for money at 30 million euros. Nobody is quite sure where Rodriguez will play at the Bernabeu, having been signed as a flavour of the month on the back of an outstanding World Cup with little consideration for how the manager will fit him into the team. Conversely, there is no doubt over where Griezmann will get his game with Los Colchoneros.

After enjoying a breakthrough season in the Basque country, scoring 16 league goals for Real Sociedad, the fleet-footed Griezmann will be deployed on the right as an "inverted winger," the vogue position that allows players to cut inside onto their favoured foot (left in this case) with Arda doing the same from the opposite flank, representing a significant upgrade on Major League Soccer-bound David Villa.

The 23-year-old is by no means a stranger to controversy, having been banned from international duty for 12 months for breaking an U-21 curfew in 2012. Yet Griezmann seems to have learned from his mistakes, which is in no small part due to his misdemeanour resulting in hard-line punishment and acceptance. After being given his first full cap by Didier Deschamps just three months before this summer's tournament in Brazil, he went on to become an integral member of the starting XI as Les Bleus reached the quarterfinals before losing to eventual winners Germany.

Simeone's lost some prize players this summer but still boasts a strong, competitive squad.
Simeone's lost some prize players this summer but still boasts a strong, competitive squad.

In addition to electric pace, an eye for goal and the ability to play in a variety of different positions, Griezmann does not need to adapt to the league or culture -- he also speaks the language fluently having lived in Spain since the age of 13. And so, he will look to hit the ground running and has the perfect opportunity to immediately earn himself a place in Atleti folklore -- his competitive debut is likely to come in the Spanish Supercup against Real Madrid.

One criticism that has been levelled at him is the need to improve the consistency of his performances -- Griezmann failed to net in his six Champions League outings -- but with time and Simeone's stewardship, this will change.

After cries for the romantic homecoming of Fernando Torres, Atleti's hierarchy have shown both sense and long-term thinking in acting quickly to secure the talented forward's signature -- reportedly ahead of several Premier League clubs -- rather than look to win a popularity contest in the short-term. He will prove to be money well spent.

The club's success in the transfer market shows little sign of stopping, with utility defender Cristian Ansaldi having passed a medical ahead of a transfer from Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg. Napoli striker Jose Callejon is also reportedly a target following a falling out with Rafa Benitez, although the fact the Spaniard, who scored 15 times in Italy last season, came through the ranks at Real Madrid might prove an obstacle.