If a picture is worth a thousand words, then two very different and telling images of Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin emerged from Atletico Madrid’s 1-0 win over Valencia last weekend.
First Griezmann, leading a counter with the clock ticking down and Valencia low on numbers, the France international decided to slow the play down, hold onto the ball, turn around and pass backward. The Wanda Metropolitano crowd voiced their disapproval as he was doing so, seeing Griezmann respond by putting his finger to his lips before angrily gesturing to the crowd to calm down.
It was the action of someone not happy in his skin, of someone who is frustrated, of someone who is trying things that just are not coming off. Simply put, of someone who probably does not want to be there. Quite the turnaround from last year.
The Atleti faithful are renowned for their patience and loyalty to their players — Luciano Vietto was still being cheered earlier this season despite not scoring for over 12 months — and this was something of a red-letter moment.
Certainly, if it had been Fernando Torres, Diego Costa or Gabi taking the decision that the Frenchman did (which given the circumstances was actually very sensible and probably manager’s orders), there would not have been that reaction. However, right now the relationship between Griezmann and the fans is rocky, to put it mildly.
It all stems back to his very public flirtations with Manchester United and Barcelona over the past 18 months. Los Rojiblancos‘ fans are wise enough to know Griezmann was probably using the club as a stepping stone, however, there are ways to go about leaving — and talking up a move is not one of them.
A very late change of heart (and pay-rise) last summer was only ever going to be a temporary solution and reports have re-emerged that he will be joining domestic rivals Barca in the summer. That Atletico saw it fitting to publically declare they were prepared to report the Catalans to FIFA over the matter shows there is considerable legs in the story. Indeed, the fact they have kept the No. 7 shirt free — rather than giving it to club-record signing Philippe Coutinho — only points to one thing.
Thus, while the public barracking of Griezmann may have raised a few eyebrows, there was certainly more to it than meets the eye and when you look at it from the point of view of loyal Atleti fans, you can understand why they did it.
Then there was the other, more striking image: the gruesome sight of Diego Godin’s teeth flying through the air as he was challenged by Valencia keeper Neto.
Saying he was challenged by the Brazilian is putting it kindly. Neto got nowhere near the ball and for want of a better description, punched Godin. Incredibly, the referee did not point to the spot, instead signalling for a goal kick as the Uruguayan was strewn across the turf in agony.
There have been 22 league games this season and Diego Simeone’s side are yet to be awarded a penalty — the longest run any side has gone since 1975-76 without a spot kick. Three pens have been given against the club this season.
“If that’s not a pen, a player will need to be killed in order for us to get one,” was how the Argentine boss analysed the remarkable stretch postgame after the Godin incident.
To add insult to injury, there have been no sending offs for any of Atleti’s opponents during their meetings either, as opposed to Atleti’s two red cards.
Ironically, the first of those was Griezmann on the opening day of the season when he was taken down by Girona goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz inside the box, only for the referee to book him for diving and then subsequently send him off for his foul-mouthed reaction to the decision.
In contrast, Barcelona and Real Madrid have both been awarded four penalties each in La Liga, while third-placed Valencia have been given five. Atleti, meanwhile, have gone 28 league games without being given one.
Granted, Atletico’s penalty takers are flaky. They scored only six from 14 in all competitions last season, with a conversion rate of just 25 percent in La Liga.
Indeed, it has been a remarkable 56 matches since the club last scored a penalty in Spain’s top division with Fernando Torres’s effort against Sporting Gijon in September 2016. On that basis, the referees could be forgiven for thinking they are saving Los Rojiblancos from penalty heartache — but the chance to experience it would at least be nice.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.