“If you knew what I heard about my unconditional support for Antoine Griezmann, my stubborn, almost indecent favoritism to Grizou the Little Prince. Many did not understand my stubbornness, not to say my relentlessness, in maintaining my trust in him. Even when he was a shadow of himself, dragging his melancholy over the pitch like a rejected lover. He had a ghostly side, as if absent, having lost all self-confidence, doubtless wondering what he was still doing in a job that already seemed, for him, ancient history. I was told that it was time to send this world champion back to the cemetery of football elephants.
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During the calamitous period of his time at FC Barcelona, then this insane interim period in his favorite team, Atlético de Madrid, where a clause in his contract required him to play only 50% of the matches (namely 45 minutes or more) as long as the two clubs, Catalan and Madrid, had not reached a definitive agreement, he considered himself as cattle, a mere commodity. He was at the bottom of the hole, a wounded man. His joy of playing, his enthusiasm, his taste for the collective, had flown away, like a child who has lost his laughter. Some called him undead, a remnant of the past. Swept away his exploits in 2018, the Russian World Cup, the Europa League with Atlético, his third place in the Ballon d’Or, when he was considered one of the best players in the world.
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The appearance of Kylian Mbappé and the return of Karim Benzema to the Blues, their aura and their power of sporting and media attraction, forced me, for a time, to change Antoine’s role on the pitch. Some saw it as a form of downgrading, of early retirement. Wrongly. How many discussions I was able to have with him to remind him of his exploits, his tremendous contribution in the management of a match, his unique grinta and his sense of combat. With his 1.73 m, he remains one of the best tacklers of this World Cup in Qatar and also a passer of incomparable generosity.
It was necessary to reinflate “my” winning machine. How do you motivate a player on the verge of a nervous breakdown? By giving him back a taste for achievement, by plunging him into the heart of the game, in an organizing role playing on all fronts. Benzema’s injury hasn’t changed the main balance of the team. Admittedly, the competition of egos could perhaps have played a negative role, but nothing is less certain, because a competition is also a game of chance, a combination of circumstances, where talents are born and die at the speed of light.
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But Griezmann, for multiple reasons, is a luminous man, not only as an athlete. His story as a descendant of Portuguese immigrants, but also, as his name suggests, having German ancestors, is a model of European citizenship. I repeat to my players that, wherever they come from, they must be proud of their roots, carry them like a banner. This is the case of my Grizou. He is much more than just a ball handler. Unconsciously, this is probably the underlying reason for my choice never to leave him by the wayside. In Qatar, he returns the favor to the power of 10, lights up the matches with his sense of the game, his obsession with serving others. How could I not find myself in him? They say he’s my favourite? He is much more. He’s kind of my son. »