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'We might not have stayed friends' - Simeone says Griezmann left Atletico at the right time

14:44 WAT 04/08/2019
The coach insists he still has fond feelings for his former striker and that staying at the club might have soured things

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone harbours no ill feelings towards Antoine Griezmann following his move to Barcelona, and is adamant it was better to leave when he did instead of staying and potentially ruining their relationship.

Simeone is overseeing a major rebuild at Atletico this close season, with Griezmann one of several key players to leave the club.

Filipe Luis, Diego Godin, Lucas Hernandez, Rodri and Juanfran have also left, with Atletico bringing in Felipe, Mario Hermoso, Hector Herrera, Renan Lodi, Marcos Llorente and Kieran Trippier as replacements, while Joao Felix is tasked with filling Griezmann's boots.

Godin, Filipe Luis, Juanfran and Fernando Torres have all received great send-offs from Atletico supporters in the last 14 months, but Griezmann was widely jeered after confirming his intention to leave in May.

Simeone puts the indifference partly down to longevity at the club, while accepting Griezmann probably chose a good time to seek a new challenge.

"Because it wasn't the same time [at the club]," he told La Nacion when asked why Griezmann did not get the same send-off as Godin and Torres.

"His time was significant from a sporting perspective. The others, in another way, have lit up the hearts of Atletico fans.

"The numbers of Antoine are tremendous. In five years, he was among the five top scorers in the history of the club.

"When he came to talk to me about his departure, I already sensed it. I think he looked for the most appropriate moment in his search to keep improving.

"He is young, he has talent, he is an extraordinary boy whom I love very much, and the best way to maintain this affection is from respect.

"I understand that others also have needs. As long as others have needs that do not alter mine, it is great. If the needs of he who remains alter my needs, we may not end up as friends any more."

With Griezmann now plying his trade next to one of football's all-time greats in Lionel Messi, 'El Cholo' took some credit for helping develop the World Cup winner into the deadly frontman Barca paid £108 million ($131m) for.

"When Griezmann arrived, he was not a striker, he was a left-winger. When I played him [as a striker] they said: 'put him back out wide'. 

"But why would he play on the wing if he is quick, he can play in the centre, he's good with his head and has a good shot – why would you play him on the wing?!"