Antoine Griezmann is a footballer in danger of extinction. All of us who follow this sport love him for very different reasons: he makes the most classic to fall in love with him due to his hard work and courage; the ones who follow football on TikTok do so for his magic touches to make the ball disappear; and the scholars for his tactical knowledge and his ability to understand what his team needs at each moment. I consider myself a mixture of all these three types of people mentioned, which is why The Little Prince has earned my heart for everything he does both on and off the field.
I have always admired Griezmann, which is why I prefer to make it clear that it will be impossible for me to be totally objective in this article. That is the positive aspect of being able to write whatever you want, the fact that you will end up doing it on the players you love.
We are ahead of a player that is the striker that you need when you are struggling to score, the midfielder that every team needs when they are lacking to create chances, and if it was necessary, the full back that marks the opposite winger or the central defender who makes a last-second tackle to avoid a goal conceded.
A tough time at FC Barcelona:
It is curious that the total player of this Atlético de Madrid is also someone who “did not succeed” (the word failure is too easily used currently) at FC Barcelona. But that was not just an average team, it was Messi’s Barça. Having Messi by your side makes it all easier for most of the players. If you do not know what to do, you just give the ball to Leo and he will take care of it. But Griezmann is not like the rest, he is harmed by this aspect due to a simple reason: that limits himself.
How to explain that such a top class player was unable to shine at Barça? The main reason, as in any other life aspect, can be found at the context: The Frenchman had rejected to join Barça in the previous season (2018-2019) through a documentary when it all seemed to be sealed. As a consequence, this fact annoyed his future teammates and slowed down his settle in his new locker room. Griezmann would sign the next summer (2019-2020) for a Barça that were already struggling financially and who opted to invest 120 million on him, which is why the demands from both the club and the crowd would be maximum.
However, it is not just a matter of relationship with his teammates. The main reason why his fit-in at Barça was not the best possible one was based on his playing features. Antoine was the offensive leader of both Atlético and France, even though Kylian Mbappé was starting to step up.
France would use Giroud as the main striker to allow Griezmann to go down and take a main role at building the play from its start, apart from the fact that he would be able to send long throws to Mbappé from that position in the midfield. All in all, all the offensive creation would go through his feet, even though he was just not an average striker: he was the thrower and the main offensive builder. We must point out that France really succeeded with this version from Griezmann (finalist in the 2016 EURO with him being named as the best player of the tournament; best player of the World Champion team in 2018; and 2nd place and 2nd best player at the 2022 World Cup).
The context at Atlético de Madrid would certainly be different, as he was not surrounded by too much offensive talent and so he would have to be even more decisive than in other teams. He would accept the job of being the top scorer and so he would have more importance as a finisher. This allowed him to be the top scorer of the squad in the five previous seasons to his transfer, from the 2014-2015 to the 2018-2019 campaign, standing out his 32 goals in his second year at Atlético (2015-2016). Griezmann has always meant everything for Atlético.
When he signed for Barça, he had to stop doing what he had become him elite at Atlético de Madrid, but he was either able to play the role that he had made him World Champion with France. That is to say, he couldn’t be neither a game creator nor a finisher. Barcelona had made a mistake on his signing, as they just wanted to limit him to a winger to make runs and open up the field in order to provide Messi with some extra space and also try to extend the career of Luis Suárez who was not as useful as he used to for a top competitive level.
Just so you get it, to limit Griezmann to an average winger, which is the role he played back at Real Sociedad in 2013, is like asking Pavarotti to sing you a happy birthday song, asking Miguel Ángel to paint your room on a single color or asking Tarantino to make a romantic comedy. Of course they can adapt, but genius work out way better when they are free to show and express their talent the way they consider the best.
Even though it might sound strange, Griezmann would have probably worked out better at Barça once Messi left, as that squad would have had less demands (Griezmann is an outstanding player, but we can never compare Messi to anyone else) and so the frenchman would once again be the leader of the team and able to play in the areas where Messi used to.
The return home:
But this relationship Griezmann-Barcelona did not work out and, due to the financial situation, Griezmann decided to return to the place where he had been happy. We must also remind you that most of the Atlético fans did not want him to come back because they felt betrayed for the way he left (you can tell that Griezmann loves the NBA for the documentary he made like LeBron’s ‘The Decision’ when he joined Miami). However, we can’t never forget that football has no memory at all. If you perform the right way and score a couple goals in two games in a row and are the best of the team, everything is forgotten.
Atlético fans took their time to forgive him, but they saw right away that he gave everything on the field and there is nothing a fan values more than effort.
Antoine had once again to adapt himself what the team needed at that time, so he grabbed the number 8 on his back (7 belonged to João Félix) and started playing as a midfielder. In addition, there were some other issues at the start of this season on his release clause that limited his playing time by contract, which forced him to be on the bench way more than he deserved and that Cholo Simeone would have wanted him, but you never saw a bad face from Girezmann during that time. He understood the situation and accepted the decision that had been taken. Griezmann had once again adapted himself to whatever the team needed.
We were probably ahead of the less talented Atlético in all their lines from the last few years. They really struggled to create through the ball and Griezmann became a ‘playmaker’ that almost won a Golden Ball to an interior. He had adapted himself to the needs of his team once again. If we take a look at his playing map from this season (Sofascore), we can see that he is not a simple attacker anymore, but a total player who makes an impact in all the playing phases.
His stats and compared data to the players from the top 5 leagues (Fbref) and released by Opta, prove that he is a total player: he shines offensively compared to the rest midfielders and defense and participates more with the ball than many strikers.
Antoine is among the 1% of midfielders in Europe with the most touches in the opposite box per game (almost 4), with the most shots per game and with the most assists every 90 minutes, apart from having great stats on dribbling and driving the ball to overcome defensive lines.
But at the same time, and under the same data, he also stands out at work without the ball among strikers (he is among the 1% of strikers with successful tackles and the 2% of steals), and at creation, he belongs to the 1% of strikers in Europe that attempts the most passes (47 per game) and shines at assisting and making passes that allow to break lines and make a progress on the team.
All of this ends up making him the 2nd player from LaLiga with the most generated goals (nine goals and eight assists) only behind Lewandowski. Furthermore, his goals are key for his team, as he is the 4th player in the league that has given the most points through his goals (nine goals that have make Atlético earn eight points), only behind Borja Iglesias (15 points thanks to his 12 goals), Enes Ünal (11 points thanks to his 13 goals) and Pedri (6 goals that turned into 10 points for Barça).
He shines among the midfielders when making attacks and finishing, and he also stands out between the strikers for what he provides the team with both before and after shooting on target. He understands football so good to be a simple striker, but he also is too good in the box to be a midfielder. Antoine is Cholo’s best answer and he will be the best in whatever the Argentinian asks him to do.
I am writing this article to remark that since the World Cup we are seeing once again the best Griezmann of his career, someone who has almost led France to win their second consecutive World Cup title acting more as a midfielder than as a striker, and the same one who is making Atlético to play their best level in the league during the last few fixtures. Furthermore, it has recently been announced that Mbappé will be France’s new captain and you will not see a bad face from Griezmann, even though he should be the successor of Lloris based on his age and trajectory, no matter that Mbappé is the best player in the world. What will be Griezmann’s answer? He will stay quiet, work and do the best for his team.
All of this just proves Griezmann’s polyvalence: he will be an Uruguayan when you need him to defend and a Frenchman for a delicatessen. If Cholo had enough money, he would clone him and he would play just him in all positions.
Antoine is a super class player talented enough to be the star of any team, but Griezmann will always be whatever the team needs him to be.
Translated by Guillermo Bermejo.
Main image: @Atleti.