MADRID, March 11 (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid captain Gabi urged his team mate Antoine Griezmann to keep giving his all in the remaining games he has left at the club.
While accepting that the Frenchman would not remain at the team for much longer, Gabi said on Sunday: “All I ask of him is that as long as he is with us he keeps playing for his life.”
Griezmann played a starring role in Atletico’s 3-0 win at home to Celta Vigo on Sunday which reduced the gap behind Liga leaders Barcelona back to eight points.
He scored the opening goal with a marvellous piece of skill and top finish and then teed up Vitolo to slam in the second after the interval before Angel Correa sealed the 3-0 win.
Griezmann will be available to rival clubs for 100 million euros ($123.16 million) in June when his buy-out clause drops from 200 million.
Reports in the Spanish media suggest he has already agreed to join Barcelona, with one radio station claiming his partner has already began looking for homes in the Catalan city.
“I just ask Griezmann that as long as he is here he defends this shirt like it deserves to be defended,” midfielder Gabi told reporters.
“I understand that not every player here has Atletico in their hearts and can change club and there’s no need to criticise nor crucify them for that.”
The striker, who struggled for form earlier in the season, has been booed by Atletico fans at certain points of the campaign for flirting with a move to Barca and for admitting interest in joining Manchester United last year.
Yet he was given a rousing reception from the Wanda Metropolitano after his exquisite opening goal against Celta, in which he controlled a knock down from Jose Gimenez then waltzed past a defender before striking into the top corner.
“Antoine is a special player for everyone, he’s very much loved in the dressing room,” Gabi said.
“He has a superior level of skill to the rest of the team and that’s why he makes the difference. At the start of the season a lot was said about him, of the interest from Barcelona and other teams, which could have made him confused.”
The striker only managed seven goals in 20 games in the first half of the season but has netted 14 times in 16 appearances in all competitions in 2018. His goal against Celta was his 16th in La Liga this season.
“I’ve always tried to be close to him because he is a very important player for us,” added Gabi.
“All I ask of him is that as long as he is with us he keeps playing for his life as he is doing at the moment and tries to make the difference, because he’s one of the few players in the team that can do that.”
$1 = 0.8120 euros Reporting by Richard Martin Editing by Ian Chadband