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How Antoine Griezmann became France’s unlikely superstar

The Atletico Madrid forward has took his impressive club form into Euro 2016.

Griezmann will be hoping to win his 34th French cap in the final tonight.
Griezmann will be hoping to win his 34th French cap in the final tonight.
Image: Frank Augstein

A GERMAN-SOUNDING SURNAME, a family with strong links to Portugal, rejected by French clubs and having played all of his professional career in Spain, Antoine Griezmann may well be his country’s surprise hero in Euro 2016.

But to succeed in anything in life, you need a bit of good luck along the way. And Griezmann knows all about that.

Having been turned down at a young age by the likes of St Etienne, Auxerre and boyhood club Lyon for being smaller and slighter than his peers, he was spotted by a scout from Real Sociedad while playing a trial game for Montpellier.

Eric Olhats, the scout in question, worked with the first team and not the youth side, but a young Griezmann still managed to catch his eye. He wasn’t even there on a scouting mission, but rather, to catch up with an old friend.

Nevertheless, Olhats saw beyond Griezmann’s slight frame, deciding to focus on his raw talent instead. And his technique and his ability with the ball at his feet was enough for Olhats to offer him a trial with the Basque club.

At just 13 years of age, Griezmann made one of the biggest and bravest decisions of his life and joined La Real; the rest is recent history.

Spain Soccer La Liga Griezmann joined Atletico Madrid for €30 million in 2014. Source: Francisco Seco

Griezmann lived with Olhats for over four years in the small French town of Bayonne while he was in the youth team, where he would go to school in France and cross the border to play football in San Sebastian.

“I was his father, his mother, his grandmother and his coach,” Olhats said reflecting on their time together.

Griezmann would still have to continually prove himself though — on and off the pitch.

Just four years ago he was suspended from the national side for over 14 months after he was caught sneaking off to a Paris nightclub ahead of a vital Euro 2013 qualifier for the French U21 side.

Consequently, Griezmann was 23 before he made his senior debut for the national side.

His impact in just over two years has been an impressive one however, so much so that well-known French newspaper L’Equipe has labeled this France team ‘Génération Griezmann.’

The 25-year-old has already amassed 33 international caps, scoring 13 goals in the process. But it is his performances at this year’s European Championships that have really caught the nation’s imagination.

The man with the golden touch is well on his way to winning this year’s Golden Boot, having already scored an impressive six goals. To put that tally into context, only Alan Shearer (seven), Cristiano Ronaldo and fellow countryman Michel Platini (both nine) have scored more in the tournament’s history.

It’s not just his goalscoring form though that has earned him the plaudits.

It has been reported that it was Griezmann that pleaded with France manager Didier Deschamps to play him more centrally in the second half of the game against Ireland, a game-changing decision that turned the match in Lyon on its head.

Griezmann isn’t afraid to call the shots — and he had another big decision to make in Marseille on Thursday night in the semi-final against Germany.

Having missed a penalty in the Champions League final against city rivals Real in May, it would have been easy and yet understandable if he had shied away from the responsibility of taking the spot-kick late in the first-half.

But he didn’t.

Facing the imposing Manuel Neuer, Griezmann arguably had more pressure on his shoulders.

Germany v France - UEFA Euro 2016 - Semi Final - Stade Velodrome Griezmann has scored in every game of the knockout rounds so far in Euro 2016. Source: Thanassis Stavrakis

A whole nation expected. A country that needs a reason to come together and celebrate like never before waited.

Griezmann took the ball knowing that his side were being outplayed and the penalty was the perfect opportunity to change the course of the game.

And as we now know, he slotted the ball past the German goalkeeper to set France on their way to the final.

“I really wanted to take a penalty in another important match. I’m pleased to have taken that decision and to have scored,” he said after the game.

The last time Griezmann played against Germany it was the night of the Paris attacks in November.

While he and the rest of those in attendance at the Stade de France narrowly avoided any fatalities, those at the Bataclan — where his sister Maud was in attendance – were not so lucky.

Thankfully for the Griezmann family, Maud survived the terrorist attack, but as she recalled to The New York Times this week, the confusion and worry is something that will live with them forever.

Tonight, Griezmann will take on one of the men he must overtake if he is to be deemed the best player in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo.

Having scored 32 goals in 54 appearances last season for Atletico in his new central position, he’s closer than ever to Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who have shared the Ballon d’Or between them since 2007. Griezmann may that feel that one day, that award could be his.

With his marriage of Spanish and French technique, his talent has flourished under the guidance of South American coaches in La Liga, but at the Stade de France tonight he has a chance to write himself into French football history forever.

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About the author:

Shane Costello

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