Antoine Griezmann: France’s Most In-Form Striker
Atlético Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann may just be the in-form player in La Liga at the moment. On Saturday, the Mâcon-born France international extended his recent run of scoring to a remarkable 8 in 7 as he netted a brace in the Vicente Calderon side’s routine 3-0 win against struggling Elche. The former Real Sociedad star now holds the record for the most goals scored by a Frenchman in a single La Liga season: Griezmann’s 22 goals eclipsed Karim Benzema’s previous record of 21 that was set during the 2011/12 season. It is all the more impressive given the fact that he has made just 24 starts, and also bettered his international teammate’s record with five games of the campaign to spare.
Statistics rarely give a full, rounded perspective in football, yet in this case they are bang on point, for the 24-year-old is making waves both domestically and on the continent. Griezmann, it seems, is hot property, and for good reason. Blessed with an excellent burst of pace, fantastic technique and an unerring ability to finish well off either foot and with his head, the French star’s talent has prompted Atlético manager Diego Simeone to play the 24-year-old in an advanced position, free from the burden of defensive duties. The youngsters’s form for Los Colchoneros begs the inevitable question: how long until Europe’s biggest clubs come calling?
Born in the eastern département of Saône-et-Loire, and of Alsatian ancestry – hence the Germanic surname – it was on trial with Ligue 1 side Montpellier that the then 14-year-old started to make a name for himself. Griezmann impressed for the Hérault-based side in a game against PSG, and attracted the attention of the watching Real Sociedad scouts, who proceeded to offer the youngster a trial at the San Sebastian club’s youth academy. After impressing during the two-week probation period, Sociedad decided to offer the young starlet youth terms, and through gritted teeth the teenager’s parents agreed to allow their son to pack his bags and move to Spain in order to pursue his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
Griezmann’s time at the Basque club was an unqualified success. He made his debut for the first team aged just 18, appearing as a substitute in a 2-0 defeat against Rayo Vallecano, and quickly established himself as an important part of the first-team set-up. Sociedad earned promotion to the Primera División for the 2010/11 season and it was there that the player started to attract the attention of the likes of Ligue 1 sides Lyon and Saint-Etienne and English Premier League clubs Manchester United and Arsenal. 40 goals in 139 top-flight appearances followed, and after a brief cameo in the Champions League – Griezmann scored a spectacular volley against countrymen Lyon to help La Real qualify for the 2013/14 edition of Europe’s top club competition, only to see his side knocked out in the group stages – the French star made the decision to leave the Anoeta to further his progression as a player.
A few months earlier, the pint-sized star had been selected in Didier Deschamps’ France squad for the friendly match against the Netherlands, earning his first cap for Les Bleus on the 5th March and completing 68 mins in a 2-0 victory. However, it was at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil that he caught the eye of Atléti coach Diego Simeone, who spotted something in the slightly built, but incredibly gifted attacker. It is said that Simeone was desperate to add Griezmann to his attacking ranks, and on 28th July 2014 the forward signed a six-year contract with Atlético Madrid for a fee believed to be in the region of £24 million. Expensive, but a sound investment by the Madrid club nevertheless.
Griezmann hit the ground running in the Spanish capital, and quickly became an indispensable part of La Liga Champions’ first team squad under the tutelage of the canny Argentine, who looks to have taken the attacker’s game to a new level. Indeed, that the Frenchman’s presence in Simeone’s starting eleven is now seen by many as non-negotiable is not just a testament to his ability to adhere to El Cholo’s meticulously implemented pressing system, but also his unique talent of gliding into pockets of space and making the difference in the final third when it really matters. Griezmann is also wonderfully versatile, and can play wide or central, in any one the advanced positions. It is this trait that appeals most to the tactically aware Simeone, and it is one that makes the 24-year-old a precious commodity in the European game.
Yet for all his promise, Griezmann has flattered to deceive recently at international level, and must look to continue this season’s form if he wants to be key part of Deschamps’ Bleus squad for next year’s European Championships on home soil. As it stands, France is blessed with a deep pool of gifted attacking players to pick from, and the Atlético forward is currently behind the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Benzema in the pecking order. It’s going to be a big 12 months for Antoine Griezmann. Time will tell if he is truly able to become one of the continent’s top stars…
Thank you to @Paddy_Boyland for the guest article. Make sure to follow him on twitter.