Antoine Griezmann's wage demands would've put the club in financial difficulty, as well as upset the dressing room who are after improved terms themselves
It was Robert Fernandez who, six months ago, told Barcelona about the change in Antoine Griezmann's buyout clause. It would be reduced from €200m to €100m on the 1st July and make Griezmann, in the current market, an absolute steal for any elite side. Fernandez stepped aside and let Josep Maria Bartomeu, Oscar Grau and Pep Segura take over. They are the ones who met with Griezmann's sister, Maud, his father, Alain and the family's lawyer.
The player, who accepted to stay with Atletico last summer because they were still under a transfer ban, knew that at the end of the season his opportunity to leave would come again. Barcelona called and the player gave his 'OK' to the deal. Barcelona were satisfied, convinced that Griezmann was on his way. Although maybe they should've been more cautious. "He's a special kid because he always says what you want to hear to avoid any conflicts," is what they say at Atletico about Griezmann.
This became even more tense following the Europa League final, in which Griezmann scored two goals. In the next match at El Calderon his own fans whistled at him, just as they had done on previous occasions at their home stadium. The fans couldn't forgive his ambiguity. It's a set of supporters which don't accept half measures and his comments, especially in France, felt like a knife in the back.
However the criticism he faced from the fans only saw him gain more strength in the dressing room. His teammates and coach went to visit Griezmann at his house. "We're going to talk a little bit, they told me at my front door," explained Griezmann. That visit came with the offer of a new contract to the tune of €23m per season. A crazy amount for a club which had never been able to compete with Barcelona or Real Madrid when it came to salaries.
This gesture from Atletico proved key in changing Griezmann's opinion. The Frenchman, however, decided to do one more thing before saying 'yes' to the renewal. He called Barcelona, told them about Atletico's offer and asked for €25m! It was Bartomeu who put the brakes on any counteroffer. He couldn't put the club's economic health at risk to sign Griezmann. It's one thing to pay €100m and hand the player a high wage, but it's another to pay €100m and offer them €25m (net) per season.
Bartomeu crunched the numbers: €50m (gross) on wages over five seasons plus €100m in transfer fees meant the total cost of the operation would be €350m. Bartomeu said no. Griezmann had become a problem for Barcelona.
Nobody likes to talk about their financial issues and Barcelona are no different. This is even though their income is increasing at a good rate, on the way to the €1000m that Bartomeu promised for 2021, but an issue is brewing inside the dressing room. Players, "a lot of times with the support of the press", are after improved contracts. "The penultimate case was Busquets, who recently signed a new deal but now wants another one with a wage increase," confirms a source from inside the club.
Barcelona had offered Griezmann a scaled salary, earning less in the first two seasons but then more in the final three. It's the same which was implemented in Umtiti's latest contract.
This means that the economical stress at Barcelona is only increasing because of the recent flood of renewals. Messi, Suarez, Umtiti and Pique are just some who have earned new bumper deals recently. Or the fees spent on bringing Dembele and Coutinho to the play as a result of losing Neymar.
According to the limits set out by the club the expenditure on wages should be around 70% of the budget but, at this moment, it's over 80%. No one can say anything publicly but the reality is it's a major concern. The risk of making a loss would have been very real had Griezmann joined and then been handed a €25m (net) per season contract. So, while Bartomeu was the first to get involved with the potential signing of Griezmann six months ago, he was only the first to have cold feet about bringing him in if it was going to cause the club financial problems.
It's evident that during negotiations a lot of errors were made. You can't claim a deal is done before having it fall through and, in turn, invoke the disgust of players such as Pique and Umtiti, which then causes greater conflict inside the club.
“I don't know if he's a priority but I like him a lot," Messi told SPORT in an interview ahead of the World Cup. And this feeling was shared by Bartomeu and his team, who saw it as a greater priority to bring in at least one central midfielder before looking for a striker.
Barcelona let Griezmann get away because they didn't know how to convince him and wouldn't bow down to his financial demands. In the background there's a debate as to why Barcelona players were part of this circus, as if the club had less power than them. If children from the academy are leaving because another club can guarantee them and their family more money, how was Griezmann ever going to turn down an offer which Barcelona could never match?
And now there are more questions floating around. "What does the club do now? Do they go out and spend more following the disappointment, just as they did last season when they bought Coutinho and Dembele after losing Neymar? Or do they put the brakes on the madness that football is currently experiencing and, like Bayern, refuse to pay the astronomical sums other clubs are asking for? How do they strengthen the team without putting the club into deeper financial difficulty?"
Barcelona wanted Griezmann but the negative aftermath following the player's decision to stay wasn't shared by those in the boardroom because "he wasn't going to be a pillar in our project". Barcelona wanted him but at a reasonable price. Not by handing him a €25m per season deal and then having to manage the discontent in the dressing room with those after improved contracts themselves. "How long would it have taken for those on the secondary pay scale to knock on the door and ask for better terms?"
For all those reasons, Barcelona see Griezmann's decision to stay as a positive and not a big drama.