A mocked-up image of Antoine Griezmann stood outside a French bistro in a waiter’s waistcoat, holding a silver tray, was posted on the France team’s social media accounts last weekend, with a sign in the window stating: Grizou pour vous servir (‘Grizou at your service’).
It marked him equalling Thierry Henry’s record for the most assists by a French player (27), a record he broke shortly after, though it spoke more broadly to the way he has been asked to provide for Kylian Mbappe at this World Cup.
Necessity was the mother of invention where Griezmann’s new, deeper role was concerned, after injuries before the tournament to Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.
Antoine Griezmann has driven France from an unfamiliar deep midfield role at the World Cup
With Didier Deschamps’ other midfielders, Jordan Veretout and Eduardo Camavinga, not convincing, the 31-year-old was installed in a three-man midfield with Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot. Griezmann has worn a heavy responsibility lightly. Pogba described him on Friday as ‘Griezmannkante.’
The focus on Sunday will be on the Mbappe vs Lionel Messi narrative but Griezmann, man of the match in Wednesday’s semi-final against Morocco, has been the outstanding French player at this World Cup.
Data from STATSports reveal the immense physical contribution he is making, box-to-box, at the wrong side of 30 — running more than 11km (6.8 miles) in four of his five starts, yet also making 730 high-speed runs through the tournament.
The Frenchman has put in a series of extremely impressive performances for France in Qatar
Though Messi’s role is different, he, for the record, has broken the 9km (5.6 miles) barrier once and made 478 high-speed runs. Griezmann’s contribution, working across the pitch, has been huge.
The Frenchman would take personal satisfaction from halting Argentina’s claim on a valedictory World Cup for Messi. The two had a difficult relationship when Griezmann left Atletico Madrid for Barcelona in 2019, with Luis Suarez trying to play the bridge-builder by organising social evenings for them and their wives.
Griezmann’s struggle to find consistent form may have explained the froideur he felt from Messi. There was no warmth before Griezmann returned to Atletico in the summer of 2021.
Amid the troubles of his club career, with the return to Madrid not going well, the World Cup has provided a reminder of his class.
He was the outstanding player in France’s quarter-final win over England, as well as against Morocco, supporting the front three going forward and adding attacking impetus on the right, with Jules Kounde a less forward-going presence at right back.
France revealed after eliminating England that their opponents’ left flank — Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Luke Shaw — had been identified as the danger. It was Griezmann who was detailed to limit those players’ influence on that side of the pitch.
His inch-perfect ball for Olivier Giroud was the delivery which sent Gareth Southgate’s team home but he has put in a defensive shift when France are not in possession, averaging as many tackles as Tchouameni.
France identified England’s left side as danger area and Griezmann was chosen to shut it down
At 5ft 7in he is not the tallest player but Griezmann always seems to be scanning the horizon, with a panoramic view of the field. He dribbles as well as any player in Deschamps’ team and can operate on either foot. A complete player.
‘I feel Griezmann has at times been “Zidane-esque” at this World Cup,’ said Christophe Dugarry, part of France’s 1998 World Cup-winning side. ‘He always has the right tone, the right pass. I sincerely think this team would not be the same without him.
‘We often lack rhythm. There’s not a lot of intensity. But, as soon as Antoine touches the ball, he puts rhythm on a pass, on a vision. He has a mix of Zizou (Zinedine Zidane) and Michel Platini. Platini enlightened the game and had a vision. He saw the game before the others. I see this in Griezmann. I find him calm, serene.’
Mbappe may well be the toast of Paris come Sunday evening, or Giroud, who conducts himself with the confident air of a man who has overtaken Henry’s record during this tournament to become his country’s all-time top goalscorer.
But the final may hinge on the contribution of the No 7 who walks quietly, rarely shouts and is the creative nexus of a France team with history in their sights.
His ball for Olivier Giroud displayed his prowess in the final third as they knocked out England