Is Griezmann France’s Underrated Legend

Three months ago Antoine Griezmann was a regular substitute amid a contract farce – now there is no stopping him in his second great World Cup, but this time from a new position.

The focus has been on the goals of Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud for France,but before Saturday’s quarter-final meeting, England manager Gareth Southgate said Griezmann was “a phenomenal player”.

And the Atletico Madrid player, reinvented as a midfielder in Didier Deschamps’ team, proved Southgate right by assisting goals for Aurelien Tchouameni and Giroud in Les Bleus’ 2-1 win.

Griezmann, now 31, was named the third-best player at the 2018 World Cup – and could he go even further this time?

He and France are just two wins – starting with Wednesday’s semi-final against underdogs Morocco – from becoming the first team since Brazil in 1962 to win consecutive World Cups.

What’s new?

Griezmann’s career has been spent on the wing, up front, or just behind a striker in the number 10 role.

But with first-choice pair Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante injured, Griezmann has had to play in central midfield in Qatar – and it has been a rousing success.

“I ask different things of him,” said boss Deschamps, a World Cup-winning midfielder himself in 1998.

“There is no sacrifice on his part, because he is so generous that he takes pleasure both when he touches the ball and when he passes.

“He will certainly score fewer goals, but he loves to tackle and recover the ball. With his left foot, he is capable of beautiful things and can shoot the set-pieces rather well.

“He has everything to play deeper: the vision, the work-rate, the touch, the energy, the intelligence.”

Griezmann has assisted three goals – a joint high with Portugal’s Bruno Fernandes and Harry Kane of England. And he has created 17 chances, including six big chances – both tournament highs.

Including corners, he has played 41 passes into the box – a joint high – and won possession in the final third six times, which is the equal second highest at this World Cup.

At the 2018 tournament in Russia, Griezmann ranked joint first for assists, but was 11th for chances created. He did not create a big chance, was seventh for balls into the box and joint 19th for winning possession in the final third.

The former Barcelona and Real Sociedad forward said last week: “I am quite free in this new role. I must be the link between the defence and the forwards.

“I have three players in front of me [Mbappe, Giroud and Ousmane Dembele], so more options – so it is easier for me.

“I owe him [Deschamps] everything in the national team. I give everything for France – for the shirt, but also for him. And I am trying to do everything I can so he keeps trusting me. Every move, every game is like a ‘thank you’ I am sending him. I want him to be proud of me.”

Griezmann, Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot and Real Madrid man Tchouameni have been the midfield three in all of France’s games bar the dead rubber against Tunisia, where they put out a weakened team.

Griezmann is the only one not to score. In fact, he has only had six shots, compared with 22 four years ago.

French football journalist Juliens Laurens said: “The reinvention of Antoine Griezmann as a number eight, patrolling midfield to run games, has been a great move by Deschamps. 

“He has been outstanding, creating more chances than anybody else in this World Cup so far, while recovering an average of five balls per game.”