The illustrious career of Gianluigi Buffon, Antoine Griezmann’s transfer saga and the expectations on England’s shoulders are all discussed in this week’s Monday Verdict.
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Griezmann speculation little more than a charade
There’s an air of inevitability surrounding the mounting speculation over Antoine Griezmann’s future….
With the striker reportedly ‘no longer’ Manchester United’s No 1 striker target this summer (that honour now apparently being bestowed upon Monaco teenager Kylian Mbappe), it seems you can’t go more than three days at present without something new being written about the striker and his next destination.
But rewind 12 months, and the saga draws striking similarities with that of his France team-mate – and by pure coincidence the player’s ‘best friend’ – Paul Pogba.
A year ago, we were subjected to all manner of claim and counter claim about Pogba’s next club. The most damning of these articles suggested the player would ‘not return to Old Trafford due to the way he was ushered out last time’ and that his ‘preference was a move to Real Madrid’.
Of course, that ultimately proved a non-starter, with the player – for better or worse – making that world-record return to his former club. Much has been written about Pogba’s performances this season, and as the world’s most expensive footballer, that is quite rightly the case. Make no mistake: Pogba is the headline name in the Premier League right now.
But that could all be about to change with Griezmann, in my eyes anyway, set to make the move to join him at Manchester United and, at the same token, better the fee United paid for Pogba.
But if recent reports would have you believe, Griezmann will be heading anywhere but Old Trafford this summer.
In the last month alone, Griezmann’s future has generated just some of these headlines:
However, all these only serve to draw out a transfer saga which many suspect will be ratified quite early this summer. With Jose Mourinho staying true to his word and stating there’d be no new arrivals at Manchester United in January (and he’d add ‘two or three quality additions in the summer’), it seems almost inevitable that Griezmann will be one of them…
In true Through the Keyhole style, let’s take a look at some of the ‘evidence’….
- Atletico Madrid are believed to have inserted a €100m release clause in the striker’s deal at the time of renewing his contract around this time last year.
- While that fee, which on current exchange rates is £86,666,804, looked high at the time, it hardly looks fearsome to the Premier League big hitters now.
- Griezmann has said if he left Atletico, he’d consider ‘Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich’. While Real might consider his signing, that move would be near-impossible given the rivalry between the clubs; Barcelona seemingly have other objectives with Philippe Coutinho and / or Paulo Dybala likely their top targets; Bayern Munich? Well, that sort of fee would surely be beyond them….
- Arsenal? Unlikely given the direction the club is heading.
- Chelsea? Possibly, but unless Eden Hazard is sold, where would he fit in? With the system Antonio Conte plays, he’d wouldn’t really fit into, or improve on, their side
Where will Antoine Griezmann be playing his football next season?
So it seems reports linking Griezmann with all these rival clubs seems little more than a charade and serving no other purpose other than drawing out the transfer saga.
All being said and done, it’s likely Griezmann will be left with the straight choice of staying at Atletico or signing for Manchester United.
And with United having the financial muscle to match that release clause, his brother dropping frequent hints to the deal on Instagram and Pogba seemingly egging his friend on behind the scenes, it only seems a matter of time before we see Griezmann posing in his new Manchester United colours…
What more do people want from England?
The title of this particular piece is one which will probably anger a few people. Of course, England have arguably under-performed at every major tournament they’ve been part of since 2002.
In particular, this is more about the reactions that come after games such as Germany and Lithuania, who the Three Lions played on Thursday and Sunday respectively.
Thursday’s game against the World Champions in Dortmund was one which was not treated with the same degree of seriousness by the media and most fans. It’s a friendly match; a chance to experiment with tactics, try out new systems and give chances to some different players.
The 1-0 defeat was not important. In fact, you would have thought England had actually won judging by the positive reaction to the performance. Gareth Southgate’s men were “bright” and “sharp” among other positive adjectives; everything but victorious.
Attentions turned to Sunday and a World Cup qualifier against Lithuania. A competitive match and a chance to continue the qualifying campaign with what should be an easy fixture at home, but the pressure turns up a notch and suddenly praise turns to scrutiny.
Perhaps the performance wasn’t as intense as some supporters, and indeed Southgate, would like to see, but England were never not going to win the game. It seems to be a genuine expectation from some fans and the media that Lithuania should have gone home having been hit for double figures.
This is the sensationalism that has developed surrounding the England football team. At best it can be a little bit overbearing, at worst it can be cancerous to the team. Southgate himself summed it up perfectly.
“We’d have liked a bit more, but I think really only one team came to win the game and it’s always difficult to break down a packed defence,” the England boss said.
Of course every England fan would like to win every game 8-0, but the nature of international football dictates otherwise. Teams like Lithuania, with all due respect, are always going to come to Wembley and set up for a point, and it’s not always going to be the case that England can run rings around them
Something which seems to have evaded fans and the media is the importance of getting the job done first and foremost. That is something which I believe Southgate is instilling into his team over a period of time. The successful teams don’t always win pretty, as evidenced by Portugal’s surprise Euro 2016 campaign.
England have a wealth of good, young, talented and hungry players at their disposal. It truly is an exciting generation, one which Southgate knows well, and one which nobody really knows the true ceiling of.
It could well be the case that they suffer the same fate as a lot of recent England sides though. Too much pressure from the start could destroy an exciting time before it has even begun.
An ode to Buffon
The remarkable story of Gianluigi Buffon continues. Days after passing Juventus legend Giampiero Boniperti’s record of minutes played for Juventus, the legendary goalkeeper then appeared in his 1,000th match in Italy’s 2-0 win over Albania on Friday.
When beginning his career for Parma against Milan in November 1995, a 17-year-old Buffon instantly stood out as a player who was going to be something special. His focus, his energy, his determination; all of it pointed to greatness.
Buffon transferred from Parma to Juventus in summer 2001 for what at the time was a colossal sum of €53million. He has admitted since that the move was purely based on achieving his childhood dream of winning a Scudetto; even cutting short talks with Barcelona to join the Bianconeri.
He may have only wanted to win one, but he has won plenty. Seven times a Serie A winner, five times a Supercoppa champion, twice a Coppa Italia victor. Buffon has champions pedigree, and being the goalkeeper he is, nobody can deny his personal contribution to those 15 titles.
There is more to what meets the eye when discussing what makes Buffon one of the best ever. Mental strength and composure are also two key ingredients in any player, but especially one who has spent the best part of two decades at the highest level.
Resilience is something which has earned him the respect of the entire football community too. After battling depression at one stage in his life, and having reported gambling problems in another, he bounced back.
Missing the World Cup in 2010 with a back injury might be enough for most players in their 30s to lose desire to play the beautiful game, but like the final boss in a video game he rose from surgery to prolong his illustrious career.
The accolades have racked up for arguably Italy’s greatest servant between the sticks. He was named by Pelé in the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players in 2004. He has been the Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year a record eleven times.
Buffon is the only goalkeeper to have won the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year Award, which he received after reaching the 2003 Champions League final. He also won the award for best Goalkeeper that year, and was voted into the UEFA Team of the Year in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2016. In 2006, Buffon was runner-up for the Ballon d’Or, the ultimate footballing prize.
When looking at the evolution of Calcio over the last two-and-a-half decades, the man affectionately known as “Gigi” has been a virtual ever-present. In turn, he has racked up the third-most appearances in Serie A history, the most appearances in Serie A as a goalkeeper, the second-most appearances for Juventus in all competitions and the most appearances for Italy.
It isn’t just his ever-presence that has broken records. Although they stand as a testament to his loyalty, the following are a tribute to his greatness: Least number of goals conceded in a single FIFA World Cup, longest consecutive run without conceding a goal in a single Serie A season, most consecutive clean sheets in a single Serie A season, most clean sheets for Italy and in Serie A history.
The list of superlatives you could use to describe Gianluigi Buffon are endless. Sometimes, just a player’s name speaks for itself. That is certainly the case with Gigi.
He holds records that will likely never be broken, but it is his loyalty and love for the Italian game which will remain his most prominent legacy.