MADRID: France forward Antoine Griezmann rejected a move to La Liga champions Barcelona in order to stay at Atletico Madrid, he said on Thursday in a remarkable documentary broadcast on Spanish television.
Griezmann, who scored two goals in Atletico’s 3-0 win over Olympique de Marseille in the Europa League final last month, made the announcement at the end of the programme, called "The Decision", made by Spanish network Movistar Plus.
The Frenchman, voted the world’s third best player of 2016, has been the subject of intense transfer speculation since signing a new contract with Atletico in May, 2017 which contained a buy-out clause that dropped from 200 million euros (US$232 million) to 100 million on July 1, 2018.
Barcelona were reported to have made huge advances in their bid to sign him when the new clause came into existence and the Catalan club’s President Josep Maria Bartomeu admitted he had spoken to the player’s representatives about a move.
Barca striker Luis Suarez also gave an interview in which he spoke about Griezmann as if he was a future team mate rather than a potential one.
That led to Atletico releasing a scathing statement declaring they were "sick of Barcelona’s attitude" in the lead- up to the Europa League final in Lyon, which was widely expected to be the player’s last big game for Atletico.
Coach Diego Simeone said he would bear no grudge with Griezmann if he left, although Atletico chief executive Miguel Angel Gil Marin offered him a thinly veiled message after his talismanic display against Marseille, saying.
"He will go down in history at Atletico, at Barca he’d be just another player," he said.
Griezmann detailed his struggles with making the life changing decision in the unprecedented documentary, showing phone conversations he had with his sister and agent Maud and his deliberations while visiting his horses.
Towards the end of the documentary, Griezmann finally declared his intention to stay at Atletico.
"They are doing everything possible to make sure the team keeps growing. It’s incredible. I can’t take it anymore, I need to tell the people that I want to stay," he said.
Griezmann underlined the decision in a post on Twitter in English, Spanish and French, writing "My fans, my team, my home."
Griezmann, 27, joined Atletico in July 2014 from Real Sociedad and has finished top scorer with the Madrid side in each season he has been at the club.
He missed out on winning the Champions League in 2016, failing to score a penalty in the 1-1 draw in the final which Real Madrid won following a shootout, but lifted a first major trophy with Atletico in the Europa League final.
Griezmann will now focus fully on France’s World Cup Group C campaign which starts on Saturday against Australia.
(US$1 = 0.8634 euros)
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)