The curious case of Antoine Griezmann and France’s major decision – Football News

The curious case of Antoine Griezmann and France’s major decision

A French talisman has been camouflaged. Less of Kylian Mbappe has been seen than expected: he missed the stalemate with the Netherlands. When he returned against Poland, some of his face was concealed by the mask protecting his broken nose.

If Antoine Griezmann has been obscured, it is for different reasons. If Mbappe’s return formed one notable detail on the teamsheet for the Poland draw, an absentee was perhaps still more significant. For the first time in a tournament game since 2016 when there was something at stake, Griezmann did not start for France.

He has been the great constant: the footballer who played in a world record 84 consecutive games for his country. His tally of 132 caps is rare: rarer still is that they have all come for the same manager. Griezmann and Didier Deschamps formed a double act that has underpinned the French era of supremacy and consistency.

Very few have been among the outstanding individuals in three major international tournaments. Griezmann has: he was the top scorer in Euro 2016, a goalscorer and the man of the match in the final of the 2018 World Cup, a revelation when reinvented as a midfielder in 2022. He was Mbappe and Olivier Giroud’s sidekick in attack, a man who meant Karim Benzema’s long international exile barely mattered, until he suddenly became Paul Pogba’s replacement.

And then, suddenly, Griezmann was the odd man out against Poland. The match against the Netherlands was, Deschamps had said, “not his best game in blue”. And yet the presumption was that Griezmann’s name would be inked onto the teamsheet, with 10 others to follow. So if the attention revolved around Mbappe when Deschamps chose his team last time out, against Belgium, Griezmann could supplant him. Is the end of an era, the fracturing of an alliance, or was it merely a one-off?

This was not the first slight for Griezmann since the World Cup: he was overlooked for the captaincy when the younger Mbappe was promoted ahead of him. Deschamps has hinted at some dissent in the French camp in Germany but exonerated a stalwart. “Maybe Antoine has a bone to pick but for me it’s not a problem,” he said. “It’s a choice. He [Griezmann] took it as a professional, with a smile, there’s no problem. There are others who aren’t happy.”

The manager presented it as rotation, given the number of high-intensity matches a veteran has played this season. L’Equipe reported that Atletico Madrid’s record scorer was “disappointed” and “frustrated” at his demotion.

(AFP via Getty Images)

Deschamps’ choices are enviable, given the depth of talent France possess. Griezmann was displaced from midfield by the trio of N’Golo Kante, Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot, a combination offering more industry than creativity. At 33, he no longer possesses the pace to operate as a nominal wide man, as he sometimes did in his younger days, and a lack of incision on the flanks has been a reason for France’s sterility. Mbappe likes to drift out to, or cut in from, the left but the majority of Deschamps’ most compelling options prefer a central role.

But the reality is that France have a meagre two goals in three games: one an own goal, one a penalty. Griezmann is not merely France’s fourth-highest scorer ever, even if only two of his 44 goals have come in his last 31 caps. He also finished tied for the most assists in each of the last two World Cups, albeit with a mere two in 2018. One came against Belgium: it was Griezmann’s corner that Samuel Umtiti headed in.

France's Kylian Mbappe gestures next to his teammate Antoine Griezmann during a training session
France’s Kylian Mbappe gestures next to his teammate Antoine Griezmann during a training session (AP)

Deschamps has become a byword for pragmatism; set-piece goals suit him fine. And there is a parallel in Griezmann’s career: the vast majority of it has come for two long-serving managers who are scarcely found at the purist end of the spectrum, in Deschamps and Diego Simeone. He has been an anomalous presence in their sides in some respects, but an efficient artist.

Griezmann’s Atletico years are both a success story and a tale of what might have been: he was not at Atleti for either of Simeone’s two La Liga titles, and missed a penalty in the 2016 Champions League final. Yet while France have lost two of his three major finals, he has a status as one of the finest international footballers of his generation.

France's Antoine Griezmann during a training session
France’s Antoine Griezmann during a training session (Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

But then perhaps his generation among Les Bleus have either gone – in the cases of Pogba, Raphael Varane and Hugo Lloris – or are going, like Giroud. Griezmann was the survivor, the central figure, the player whose presence was taken for granted. Until, suddenly, he wasn’t there. And whether or not he will be back against Belgium, it raises questions if Deschamps will move on from Griezmann.

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