‘He’s not someone who speaks a lot and neither do I, so it’s difficult that we talk,’ Antoine Griezmann said smiling in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday.
He did add: ‘We’ve already had a mate (South American herbal tea) together so we are on the right road,’ but the previous phrase was still hanging in the air like a bad smell.
Getting along with Messi has always been integral to becoming a success at Barcelona if you are a new forward player.
Antoine Griezmann (above) admits his relationship with Lionel Messi hasn’t started off the best
Messi (centre left) and Griezmann trained ahead of Barcelona’s Champions League tie vs Inter
Getting on with Messi will be integral for Griezmann to become a success at Barcelona
Zlatan Ibrahimovic never really managed it. In Argentine journalist Sebastian Fest’s book entitled ‘The Messi Mystery’ there is the story of Messi texting Pep Guardiola on the team bus to say: ‘I can see I’m not important anymore…’.
It was a response to Ibrahimovic’s arrival to the centre-forward position with Messi pushed back out wide at the start of the 2009-10 season.
Messi would be returned to false nine duties soon enough and Zlatan was sold within a year.
Alexis Sanchez and David Villa were other forwards who struggled at times alongside Messi. Villa got through it by sacrificing himself and becoming one of Messi’s brilliant wing-men in the 2011 side [Pedro was the other] that beat Manchester United in the Champions League final at Wembley. But Alexis never managed to adapt.
Neymar and Suarez are the other side of the story. Suarez has become Messi’s best friend off the pitch and as well as on it. And Neymar made it clear from day one that he knew his role was to help Messi.
He still managed to get annoyed when Messi was on the front page of all the sports papers the morning after the Neymar-inspired incredible comeback of 2017 against Paris Saint-Germain and he left to ‘leave Messi’s shadow’.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (left) and Alexis Sanchez struggled to adapt to play with Messi at Barcelona
Neymar (left) and Luis Suarez enjoyed great success with Messi after accepting their roles
Suarez and Messi are still together at Barca and are best friends off the pitch as well
Griezmann was always going to have it tough, in part because Messi wanted Neymar signed instead.
There were whispers in the summer that the dressing room, for which we can read Messi, had vetoed the signing of the Frenchman. The reports emanated from pro-Neymar news sources and it’s hard to believe Messi tried to block a signing that had already been agreed with Barcelona just waiting for July 1 when the Griezmann’s release clause was due to fall to £100m.
But all the same there seems to have been no warmth from day one.
Asked if he had got to know Griezmann in a Diario Sport interview earlier in the season Messi said: ‘Very little. I came back injured and did not train with the team. They went on tour and when they came back I have not been in the same dressing room [as him] that much. But I am there in training [now]. We will have the chance to share many things.’
When Griezmann scored twice on his home debut he tried to ingratiate himself with Messi by saying of his second goal: ‘I’ve seen Messi score that type of goal so many times I just copied him’. Some commentators said that it was a shame he had not also copied Messi’s style of low-key, natural, celebration.
Griezmann was always going to have it tough, in part because Messi wanted Neymar’s return
After opening his Barcelona account, Griezmann celebrated by throwing glitter in the air
Who knows if Griezmann’s run behind the goal to grab a handful of glitter from a prepped steward and then throw it theatrically in the air drew a similarly unimpressed response from Messi.
One of the most oft-used phrases at the Camp Nou and at Barcelona’s Joan Gamper training ground is: ‘we don’t do that here’. It’s been said over the years to incoming coaches trying to impose new training drills on players, and to players who try to dance a rumba after scoring.
Griezmann’s Lebron James rip-off will not have done him any favours in terms of being accepted. It was one thing to produce that slightly cringeworthy video about his ‘Decision’ not to join Barcelona but at least that was done as an Atletico Madrid player.
Ultimately, however, what counts in terms of Griezmann’s acceptance is what he does for the team. Villa is proof that a player can thrive without become great friends with Messi. Others such as coach Tata Martino, the Barcelona manager who lasted just one trophyless season in 2013-14, was brought in with Messi’s alleged approval but it never stopped him being a flop.
If Griezmann helps Barcelona win matches that will be all that matters. Messi, Suarez and Neymar became the three amigos first and foremost because they were on the same high-frequency wavelength on the pitch and became an unplayable front three.
If Griezmann helps Barcelona win matches that will be all that matters in relation to Messi
Griezmann has started indifferently. Three goals is a reasonable return from his first seven games in the league but he has been overshadowed, first by Ansu Fati and then at the weekend by Carles Perez. What those two have in common is that both are happy to play as wingers in the Barcelona front three.
Griezmann has not operated as a winger regularly since his Real Sociedad days. At Atletico his best position became playing off the main striker. At Barcelona that is largely Messi’s role.
At first even Messi and Suarez didn’t hit it off on the pitch with Suarez struggling wide right so Messi could play through the middle. The pair spoke at length about their early difficulties and Messi ended up moving back out to the right in 2015 to accommodate the centre forward.
As Griezmann admitted on Tuesday, it will be hard for that sort of dialogue to take place between himself and Messi. The player who has so often been referred to as the little prince, and the man who will always be king at Barcelona don’t seem to be conversing. Griezmann will have to do his talking to Messi on the pitch.