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Ballon d’Or: Griezz Lightning

Fifty Percent Spanish, One Hundred Percent French

Some players go through their youth careers having never to taste the bitterness of disappointment. Antoine Griezmann was not one of those players, from the age of 8 to aged 11, Griezmann would trial at several French League clubs, only to be told the same thing, “You’re too small, underdeveloped, you’ll never make it”.

Less determined children, and parents for that matter, would have given up on the opportunity to play pro. Had it not been for a certain scout, present at one of many trial games Antoine played in, it might never have happened for him.

Born in the commune of Macon to town councillor Alain and cleaner Isabella, football was in Griezmann’s blood. His maternal Grandfather Amaro Lopes played for top Portuguese side Pacos de Ferreira, before moving to France in 1957 pursuing full-time paid work. Amaro would, unfortunately, pass away whilst Antoine was still an infant, he’s sure to have been proud of the heights his Grandson has taken his playing career so far, but are there bigger achievements yet to come?

Griezmann played for his local side UF Macon, it was whilst playing for them that he would embark on the several unsuccessful trials. Until a chance meeting between Real Sociedad scout Eric Olhats and his Father Alain. Eric attended a trials game between Montpellier and PSG, usually scouts would not attend these games, certainly not ones from outside of the two clubs in question, for fear a player could be snatched away by a rival. It would happen though that Montpellier would conform to the narrative set out before Antoine previously. He was too small, under-developed and therefore deemed not good enough or would never make it.

Eric disagreed and convinced Alain and Isabella to send their son to San Sebastian to trial with Real Sociedad, Griezmann would move from France aged 13 and has remained in Spain and the Basque Country to this day. He asked a close friend upon his first call-up to the French national team “How can I identify as French?, I don’t feel French, I have lived in Spain for so long”.

The San Sebastian Raider

Upon arrival in San Sebastian, Griezmann lodged with the Olhats, one of the conditions that convinced Alain and Isabella to let him leave their home.

Commonplace when youth players are forced to relocate for opportunities. Gylfi Sigurdsson and Shane Long are examples too, the former moving from Iceland aged 12 and the latter from Ireland aged 15, both living with Reading FC Chief Scout Brian McDermott and Head of Academy, the late Eammon Dolan. Antoine’s travels would be well rewarded, after a two week trial with the club, he was accepted into the Real Sociedad youth set-up and would go on to graduate to the first team 5 months after his 18th Birthday

An injury to Sociedad first-team left winger, Martin Lasarte, called for an emergency replacement. Griezmann got the call, and as a result, he would bypass the reserve team altogether, which is unheard of for a youth graduate. Antoine would score 4 times in 5 pre-season games and become a regular feature throughout the league season. He would make his competitive debut in a Copa del Rey loss to Rayo Vallecano in September of 2009, before making his first league start in Segunda B vs Huesca three weeks later, scoring his first ever competitive senior goal two weeks after that, against Salamanca. Real Sociedad would go on to win the division in the 2009/10 season and gain promotion to La Liga as a result.

Griezmann would be offered his first full-time contract in the April of 2010, a 5-year-deal with a 30 million Euro release clause. At a time when players like Arbeloa were commanding fees of £3.5m and Xabi Alonso £30m to both move to Madrid, it was a statement of intent from Sociedad. If you wanted Antoine Griezmann, you were going to have to pay a very large fee.

Four glorious years would see Griezmann establish himself as the number one winger or striker at the club, as a talented technician, he was able to fulfil multiple roles. He, along with his teammates would see Sociedad qualify for the Champions League on the final day of the 2012/13 season for the first time in a decade, beating Deportivo La Coruna. Sociedad would go on to beat Lyon in the play-off qualifier 2013/14, unfortunately, Sociedad would finish bottom of a group containing Manchester United, Bayern Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk without winning a single game.

Domestically that year though, Sociedad’s season was a lot more successful, finishing 7th and reaching the Semi-Finals of the Copa del Rey. Griezmann would accumulate 52 goals in 204 official appearances for Sociedad and in the final year of his contract, Atletico Madrid came calling, ready to pay the 30 million Euro release clause and a lucrative Six-year contract.

The Search for Silverware

Antoine Griezmann had experienced a lot of change in his life up to the age of 24 when he moved to Atletico Madrid. One thing though stayed the same, the lack of winner’s medals. Apart from a Segunda B title win in his first senior year (remember he had not even signed professionally by this point), Antoine has yet to win any silverware, I’m of course not including the Supercopa won by Atletico in 2014, just like I wouldn’t consider the Community Shield as a competitive trophy in England. He has, however, come close on two occasions to winning team honours, both in 2016, only to fall down at a Cristiano Ronaldo shaped final hurdle on both occasions. Atletico would reach the Champions League Final of 2016, knocking out Barcelona and Bayern Munich to set up a Madrid derby at the home of the fiercest of European derby fixtures, the San Siro.

Griezmann would miss a penalty in regular time and the game would end 1-1, going all the way to the lottery that is the shootout. When the occasion called for it Griezmann did not make the same mistake twice, slotting low and hard in the left-hand corner. Real would win the shootout 5-3, Ronaldo with the killer blow after a Juanfran miss. Fast forward eight weeks and France have made it to the final of Euro 2016 vs Portugal, team Ronaldo would prevail once again with a 1-0 victory. Although Ronaldo was only on the pitch a short while due to injury, he would spearhead every attack and organise the defence from the sideline, in what would prove to be an all-time classic final. France had several clear-cut opportunities, Griezmann with a handful on his own, Les Bleus could have and probably should have won the game early on.

Alas, it was Cristiano who would again get the better of Antoine. As we now progress toward the World Cup and (bar a spectacular collapse by Barca in the final nine games of this season) another trophyless year for Atletico, despite extending his contract to 2021, word on the grapevine is that Griezmann is in search of medals to rubber stamp his career.

Barcelona seems to be leading the race, although it’s hard to see how he fits into the squad. There are very few players in the world that get in ahead of Suarez, Messi and the 110 million Euro Ousmane Dembele, that’s without considering the recent signing of Phillipe Coutinho.

King Antoine?

Can Griezmann win the Ballon d’Or? You could argue that had he completed the same double Ronaldo did in 2016 (Champions League and Euro Championship) he would have won it already, breaking the continued dominance of Messi and Ronaldo. Cristiano himself saying “The title this year should also belong to Antoine, he has had an amazing season and battled me all the way to the end for it”. The only thing that really stands out as missing from the known criteria of being named the world’s best player, trophies.

He could not have done much more as an individual, winning French Player of the Year, Euro Championship Player of the Tournament, the tournament Golden Boot, La Liga Player of the Year, Fans’ Player of the Year, named in the Euro Team of the Tournament, UEFA Team of the Year and La Liga Team of the Season. At 28 years of age, Griezmann’s time as a world-class striker with very few equals is running out. Just in researching for this series I’ve discovered a small army of 19, 20 and 21-year-olds, who’ll be well positioned to contend the title in 2 or 3 seasons time.

That’s without the current well-known threats of Kane, Hazard, De Bruyne as well as compatriots Pogba and Mbappe. Let’s not shy away from the facts, Griezmann did everything he possibly could have done in 2016 to win the Ballon d’Or apart from winning a trophy. Outside of this decade of dominance, World Cup winning players always win World Player of the Year in the same year, Fabio Cannavaro the last player to do so. Ronaldo and Messi remain the only non-World Cup winning players to be named best player in the world in a World Cup year, after the inclusion of South American players in 1995. Should France go on and win the World Cup in Russia in a few short months, and Griezmann be consistent with his performances throughout, as he was at the Euros, I suspect it’ll be enough to elevate him from 3rd to 1st.

Thank you for reading, as always follow me on twitter @darrenbutler87 and @ByFarBlog for daily football content from around the world.

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