Barcelona have “strongly” denied claims made by Spanish daily Sport on Saturday that they have reached an agreement to sign Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid at the end of the season.
“The Atletico Madrid forward has agreed to join Barcelona and will be under (coach) Ernesto Valverde’s orders next season,” Sport said, adding that Griezmann’s current buy-out clause of 200 million euros ($240 million) drops by half on July 1.
However, Barcelona later took the unusual step of releasing a statement to deny the reports from the Catalan newspaper.
“FC Barcelona strongly denies the information that has appeared over the course of the last few hours in different media regarding Atletico Madrid player, Antoine Griezmann, and an alleged deal with our club,” said the statement on the Catalan club’s website.
Such a reaction can be explained by the fact that Atletico have complained to FIFA about “repeated contacts” between Barca and the France striker.
“FC Barcelona expresses its objections in the face of these events and reiterates its full respect for the institution of Atletico Madrid,” added the statement.
Barcelona have been scrambling to add high-quality players to their squad since Paris Saint-Germain lured Brazilian star Neymar to France in a world-record signing last August.
Philippe Coutinho joined from Liverpool this month in a 180 million-euro ($220 million) deal.
Not wanting to add fuel to the fire, Valverde played down the transfer talk at his press conference ahead of Sunday’s trip to Betis in La Liga.
“Griezmann is a great player who plays for another club whom we respect,” he said.
“When the transfer window is open, we are in a world where there is speculation on a daily basis and we have to live with that.
“But if you’re asking me if Griezmann is a good player, well obviously he is a good player. But I repeat what I always say: I prefer to talk about my own players.”
Sport says it believes Griezmann’s transfer will take place after the World Cup in Russia, where he will have a key role for France, who are among the favourites.
Another Catalan daily, Mundo Deportivo, reported in December that the player’s family had lunch with the Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu to smooth the way for the transfer.
Brazilian born Spain striker Diego Costa joined Atletico from Chelsea in September, and has proved to be the club’s top performer since his debut two weeks ago.
Barcelona, whose stars Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta are all in their thirties, signed Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund for 105 million euros last summer, but the 20-year-old French rising star’s campaign has been marred by injury.