Antoine Griezmann 22 Midfielder Real Sociedad France
2013 has been…
He will be remembered as the one that got away from all of French football. As modern football moves towards diminutive playmakers with pace and sublime feet, Griezmann will always be seen as the youngster that no-one was willing to take a punt on. He had trials; many trials. But no offers of youth contracts were forthcoming until he caught the eye of Real Sociedad.
At the tender age of 16, and with the offer of lodgings for his family; Griezmann took a chance on forging a path for himself in Spain. The rejection he suffered from a string of French sides will still act as a spur for Antoine. He may feel better knowing that none of the teams that had him for a week would have anything close to the financial muscle to sign him now.
Griezmann stands a lowly five foot and nine inches. His size and physique has always been the main worry surrounding him. His pace, trickery and ability on the ball has never been questioned to our mind but, as he was breaking through, the elite sides in Europe were built around strapping bulldozer types, ready to bound through walls. We can understand where the concerns came from.
Thankfully, he found a home in Sociedad and amongst a team of supposed rag-tag players, cast aside or written off early in their careers. As Real Sociedad bounded into the Champions League group stages in 2013, their side was littered with success stories. Griezmann battled against assumptions about his size, Inigo Martinez proved he was capable of being a commanding centre-half and Liassine Cadamuro made Sochaux regret allowing him to leave. His partner-in-crime Carlos Vela put paid to the doubts that surrounded him at Arsenal and continues to do so.
It is in Vela and Griezmann that Sociedad really shine. La Real are quite simply devastating on the counter, racing up the field as quick as a flash to punish opposition sides that allow one too many players forward at set-pieces.
Of course, Antoine remains banned from international duty thanks to the infamous incident involving Yann M’Vila. Griezmann and M’Vila, along with Chris Mavinga, Wissam Ben Yedder and M’Baye Niang enjoyed a night out in Paris between two legs of the French under-21 side’s crucial play-off with Norway. The fact they were staying in Le Havre, a 250 mile round-trip from the French capital made the story all the more juicy for the French tabloids.
Three days after the night out, which was well photographed and talked about, France were battered 5-3 by Norway and missed out on qualification for the UEFA European under-21 Championships. Regardless of the 72 hour gap between the two, the players were reprimanded by the FFF. The night out wasn’t to blame for the defeat but in light of the under-21 side letting a glorious position slip; it didn’t help the players’ case and they were all banned.
Griezmann’s ban expires at the end of 2013 and means he could still work his way into the World Cup squad that travels to Brazil. However, he’ll need to assure many that his partying ways are behind him. The severity of the fifteen month reprimand appears to have done the trick. As much as it may have hurt the French teams to have not had him in and around over the last year; the wake-up call may serve them better in the future.
He’ll make his debut for Didier Deschamps’ France side soon. He’s been playing too well over the last two seasons for the national team coach not to bring him into the squad between now and June. From there, it’ll be up to the player to prove that France need him when they eventually get to South America.
Of course, his inclusion should make for an interesting reaction. Having been in Spain since he was 16, Antoine has friends around Sociedad, can ramble in Basque and has, I’m told, something of a Spanish accent when he speaks. At a time when the French national team are struggling for public support; with many claiming they are paid too much and are too disengaged with real people; the reaction to Griezmann may not be friendly at all. Like Eden Hazard’s troubles with Belgium, he’ll need to prove just how much pulling on the shirt means to him. Anything less and he’ll be written off along with the other prima donnas that blight Les Bleus.
Thankfully for his current club, Real Sociedad are in exceptionally good condition compared to the rest of Spanish football. They should be able to withstand any responsible offer than is tabled for their exceptional winger. That’ll allow them to wait on the ridiculous. Only recently, their chief executive spoke of the cash surplus in and around the club thanks to the unprecedented Champions League appearance and the rather ludicrous sale of Asier Illarramendi to Real Madrid for something over €30 million.
Unlike Valencia, who have made a habit of selling their biggest star year-on-year to balance the books at the club, Sociedad don’t need to sell. The team have started to perform after a slow-start and spurred on by Antoine’s sublime recent scoring run, are once again in contention for a Champions League place. Another season experiencing the highest level of club football in Europe will improve Antoine before he makes the move he seems keen for.
Every summer, the 22 year-old has admitted how open he is to the idea of leaving Sociedad for pastures new. Manchester United appear to be the latest in a long line of prestigious suitors although that could simply be because of the Champions League pairing the two sides together.
Although, the French star is happy in Sociedad and has a support network around him; there isn’t the same loyalty that you’d expect from a player who grew up a stone’s throw away from the south stand of the ground. Should the interest be more than just newspaper chatter, he may put his foot down.
"Antoine Griezmann was the youngest player to score 10+ goals in the 2012/13 Liga BBVA. He has scored seven goals in his last six La Liga appearances, assisting another." - Opta
"Only an International ban hangs around the neck of Antoine Griezmann these days, and that soon will be up. The Frenchman is an electric presence on the field and has found genuine consistency that seemed to evade him. Still raw but don't take that as a weakness - it makes him a genuine threat on the field and difficult to contain." - David Cartlidge, Spanish Football Expert
C+ Prove that night in Paris was a mistake as quickly as you can