Manchester United plan to trigger the £85 million release clause in Antoine Griezmann’s contract at the end of the season as it emerged Paul Pogba has been making efforts to reassure the Atletico Madrid striker the English weather is not as bad as he fears.
The news comes as Jose Mourinho dismissed as “absurd” suggestions he is plotting a £173 million move to sign Barcelona and Brazil forward Neymar and stressed that he “always [tries] to be objective and pragmatic” with regard to his transfer demands.
Mourinho asked United’s hierarchy as far back as last year to focus their efforts on signing Griezmann this summer as the manager bids to bring more cutting edge to the attack and Old Trafford remains the Frenchman’s most likely destination, unless he decides to stay at Atletico for another season.
Mourinho thinks highly of Monaco’s teenage sensation, Kylian Mbappe, even if the £100 million plus price tag the French club have slapped on the 18-year-old is likely to deter suitors this summer, and Romelu Lukaku’s refusal to sign a new contract at Everton has pricked attention at United but Griezmann still remains the priority target.
Griezmann has made repeated favourable references to the Spanish lifestyle in recent weeks and, in turn, talked less fondly about the infamous English weather. But those public utterances have usually been greeted with playful text messages from United midfielder Pogba, his close friend and compatriot, that he has nothing to worry about in Manchester, which is renowned for being a rainy city.
United have made all the early running in the battle to sign Griezmann and have been encouraged by the reaction of intermediaries, as well as recognising that few rival clubs could afford to foot a near world record fee and Atletico have loans on their impending new stadium to finance.
READ MORE: Mourinho responds to £173m Neymar talk
But while Griezmann’s release clause would negate the threat of protracted negotiations with Atletico, despite the legal complexities that often surround such things, complications could arise if Diego Simeone opts to stay on as coach, the Spanish club win the Champions League this season and/or United fail to qualify for the competition next season.
Simeone took the unusual step last September of reducing the length of his contract at Atletico, which makes him a free agent in the summer, but the Argentinian has since said it is not unfeasible he could remain at the club.
Atletico face Leicester City in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and it is not a competition Griezmann would give up lightly if United fail to qualify for it via the Premier League or Europa League this season.
The prospect of Griezmann partnering Zlatan Ibrahimovic will excite United fans but Mourinho says he will support the Swede whether or not he decides to stay at Old Trafford next season, even though he is expected to take up an option of another 12 months. “I am just calm and waiting for the decision,” Mourinho told Sky Sports Soccer Saturday. “If the decision is for him to stay and he is happy with that, we are delighted with that. If his decision is to leave and try to find a different challenge, I will be also happy for him.”
But one player who will not be at United next season is Neymar. “I always try to be objective and pragmatic with clubs and to ask them what they can give me,” Mourinho told ESPN Brazil. “To ask for Neymar is absurd.
“A club like Barcelona cannot and will not lose Neymar. Although [Lionel] Messi is still a young player with years ahead of him, he's almost 30, and Neymar will be the great player of Barcelona post-Messi. So much that I think it [trying to sign Neymar] is like trying to break into a safe, impossible.”