Griezmann: rubbing shoulders with the best

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated world football over the last eight years. Griezmann, who has had a stellar 2016, banging in 32 goals for Atletico Madrid and finishing as the top scorer in EURO 2016, has done just about enough to stand up and be counted alongside them.

Antoine Griezmann's touch and technique are a delight to watch. And he is good in the air too.   -  REUTERS

Antoine Griezmann could be the gust (a whiff is too mild) of fresh air that world football so badly needs. The France forward has made it to the three-man Ballon d’Or shortlist for the first time. Don’t get me wrong, as boring as they’ve made it in sharing the award between them for the last eight years, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have done everything to deserve the accolade. But perhaps it’s time for us to get a new hero and I believe Griezmann has done just about enough to stand up and be counted.

The diminutive Frenchman has had a stellar 2016, banging in 32 goals for Atletico Madrid, who finished third in the league and made it to the final of the Champions League. He then went on to finish as the top-scorer at EURO 2016, where France finished runner-up. Call it fate or simply poor luck that he’s up against a player who went home with the winner’s medal in both those finals where Griezmann finished second. Then there’s Messi, who has some sort of ownership of the award. The Argentinean scored 41 goals as Barcelona won the League and Cup double.

 

Griezmann’s is an interesting story if not fascinating. His height or rather the lack of it seemed to be a hiccup for most French clubs, who chose to let the chance of signing him pass without a second thought. His frustration took him to Spain where he signed with Real Sociedad in 2008. I’d really like to know what the clubs that rejected him then are thinking now.

There are so many things to like about Griezmann, the footballer. His touch and technique are a delight to watch. They say, he’s most comfortable when operating on the left, but his movement in and around the box rubbishes the claim. He also discards the perceived lack of advantage for someone with a frame and height like his. He’s good in the air, very good in fact. What I like the most about him is the way he treats the ball. He can smash or caress the ball home with equal brilliance. One of the key reasons he’s been so successful at Atletico is because of their swift counter-attacking style. They soak in so much and once they have the ball from the opponent, they can leave them for dead and that’s where Griezmann comes into play.

If there’s one drawback — to put a finger on — it would be Griezmann’s consistency. He tends to have spells where he goes missing but then don’t we all? I’m certain, that with time, he will fix his lack of consistency and when that happens, he could be more than just making up the numbers in nominations for awards.

Griezmann has age on his side. While Ronaldo and Messi are 31 and 29 respectively, Griezmann is 25 and he’s already punching alongside them. Besides upping his performances over the years, Griezmann has also matured as a person and a footballer. He wants to take his career seriously. Not many know that he along with four other French players from the under-21 squad were handed a one-year ban in 2013 by the federation for sneaking out to a nightclub in Paris before a crucial EURO qualifying play-off game against Israel. But instead of losing his way, which is very easy to do in modern-day football, he kept his head down, worked hard and was on his best behaviour to earn a call up to the national side as soon as his ban ended.

For all the praise people heap on his rather lethal left foot, Griezmann looks up to David Beckham because of the Englishman’s right foot. Beckham is also the reason why the Frenchman wears the No. 7 shirt with his sleeves long. And it’s going to be interesting to see how Atletico keep him away from a rumoured switch to a league where his hero started out. While he seems happy in Spain, I have a feeling that the burden of carrying the club’s hopes on his slender shoulders will prove to be heavy in time to come. While Atletico has some fantastic players, they don’t have the kind of options like Real or Barca do and that can be telling.

What makes his nomination for the Ballon d-Or special is the fact that he looks up to Ronaldo and Messi and aspires to be like them. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Griezmann said of Ronaldo and Messi: “I want to eat at their table. I want to get as close as possible to their level and win titles. My objective is to be among the best.”

It is safe to say that he’s well on track to achieve the goals that he has set for himself.