Antoine Griezmann the quiet key for France at Euro 2020 despite seasons of Barcelona struggle

By common consent of largely everyone who has cared to have an opinion – which is, effectively, everyone – Antoine Griezmann’s €120 million move from Atletico Madrid to Barcelona two years ago has been rather less than a rousing success.

Shunted around the team, without a clearly defined role and with more than one manager not quite finding the best use for him in the gaps Lionel Messi doesn’t occupy, he has been good, but not over-£100m-good.

Indeed, unless you happen to be an avid LaLiga watcher, it could easily have escaped your attentions that he actually racked up a 20-goal season in 2020/21, though with just two in the Champions League and none against either his former club or Real Madrid, it would still be a hard sell to term the campaign a runaway success.

Especially given the only silverware was the Copa del Rey, and the fact that once again, the middle part of the season seemed to be about if, and where, he could even fit into the best line-up.

There are no such qualms or concerns about his role on the international stage.

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Whether France line up in their diamond, in a 4-4-1-1 variation or anything in between, Griezmann is in the 11 and figures at the core of head coach Didier Deschamps’ ideas, both on and off the ball.

If more proof of that claim was required, the boss himself laid the doubts to rest before the end of the group games:

“He’s one of the greatest players of all time both in Europe and worldwide.”

Without debating the merits of Griezmann’s standing in the overall pantheon of the sport, is not an exaggeration to suggest that he has been the stand-out individual for Les Bleus at this stage, though with only one win from a tough group phase – top spot earned, no defeats – it is also fair to suggest that France haven’t hit top gear too early at Euro 2020.

The No7 has been central to it all, roaring around the pitch where others have eased themselves into the tournament, creative when France have needed it, relentless off the ball to allow the counter-attack to remain a possibility when others might not track back as diligently.

As might be expected for a World Cup-winning national team coach who himself used to be one of the best defensive midfielders anywhere on the planet, Griezmann’s off-the-ball output earns as much admiration as his final-third threat.

“He’s an offensive player, a very creative player and he has this ability to think outside the box. That’s something he has proven to us time and time again, it’s remarkable to watch, even though he’s happy to get back and defend. Maybe he does that a little bit too much,” Deschamps said.

“The statistics speak for themselves. You can see the influence he has for the French national team through the goals that he scores and his assists.

“If we then add to that the capacity he has to change the game, to get stuck in when we need to defend and we don’t have the ball, he’s one of the greatest players of all time both in Europe and worldwide.”

Again, there is no exaggeration here, at least in terms of Griezmann’s effect within the squad.

In France’s three games so far at the tournament, he has made the most key passes (six), twice as many as all his team-mates bar one. He has made fewer unsuccessful touches (two) – in other words losses of possession via control or taking in a pass – than any of France’s five attacking starters.

But he also tops the squad for the most passes blocked (four) and, although modern football law dictates ‘No player may make more tackles than N’Golo Kante’, Griezmann is running his team-mate close. His tally of six places him third in the squad, behind only the current-day Deschamps iteration in Kante (nine) and starting defender Benjamin Pavard (seven). He’s also behind only the two centre-backs, Raphael Varane and Presnel Kimpembe, for clearances made (three).

Oh, and he has netted one of only three goals scored by a France player at the tournament so far.

All this, and from a position which is nominally as a No10 – as far removed from a Mesut Ozil cameo as it’s possible to be.

He is part playmaker, part penalty box threat, part ball-winner. It’s as familiar a sight seeing him sprint back to make a perfect sliding tackle on the halfway line as it is watch him ghost between two defenders and slip a pass into one of the more headline-grabbing acts in attack.

Between Karim Benzema’s improbable return to the international scene and Kylian Mbappe’s status as perhaps the most admired and sought-after young star in world football, it isn’t a big surprise that Griezmann doesn’t steal the limelight.

But that’s just fine with him, and with Deschamps: while the focus is elsewhere, the No7 is pulling the strings, dictating the game and ensuring France stay in the running to have yet another successful summer.

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