FEATURE | Antoine Griezmann: The Frenchman with a soft spot for South America

Antoine Griezmann is not Argentinian, but maybe he would like to be. The Frenchman is the only player in the France squad who has recognised Argentina as “a good team that works very well and has the best player in the world”.

Griezmann was of course referring to Lionel Messi as “the best in the world”. Kylian Mbappé may disagree.

The 31-year-old weighs 72 kilos, adhering to a strict diet that keeps him at that weight to avoid disappointing Diego Simeone at Atlético Madrid.

In his early days, Griezmann was rejected by numerous French clubs including Lyon, Auxerre, Metz, Sochaux, Saint Etienne and Montpellier for being small and fragile.

At the 2022 World Cup, Griezmann has really impressed, providing three assists so far, and operating in a deeper midfield role for Les Bleus.

Argentinian habits

France take on Argentina in the World Cup final on Sunday and Griezmann can’t deny having a soft spot for South American countries like Argentina and Uruguay.

According to Diario Olé in Argentina, Griezmann’s favourite team is Boca Juniors, who he went to watch play in the Copa Libertadores 2018 final against arch-rivals River Plate. That day Griezmann was wearing a Boca shirt for South America’s biggest match at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Griezmann can often be seen with a mate in hand, a hugely popular caffeine-rich infused drink in Argentina and other parts of South America.

It was Carlos Bueno, former Boca and San Lorenzo striker, who invited Griezmann for the first time to drink mate when the pair played together at Real Sociedad.

Bueno met Griezmann when he was just 17 years old and was promoted to Real Sociedad’s first team under the management of Martín Lasarte. And although it is hard for him to admit it, he was a very important person for the current world champion’s development as a player and as a person.

“He made a disgusted face but later told me that it [mate] wasn’t so bad. That same afternoon we went to a square and he asked me for another one. That’s how it all started,” recalled the Uruguayan, a fan of Peñarol, a club for which Griezmann also has time for.

“We experienced a lot of nice things together. He was in a process of growing as a footballer and also starting to become a man. Because as I always say, in football there is no time to be a child. The day you step on a first division pitch and play, you have to mature very quickly because you don’t have time for anything. We talked a lot. He would ask me about the teams where I had played and about the players and about life. He would also ask about how we live in Uruguay. I told him that we were a very small country but very passionate about football. A country where we ate a lot of meat, a lot of asado and a lot of dulce de leche,” Bueno told El País.

“I went on holiday and he asked me to bring him a thermos, mate and bombilla (metal straw). I did and he started taking mate to training, and he never stopped after that.”

Bueno also took him out to eat at an Argentinian restaurant so he could try the asado. “But I explained to him that it was not the same as the one you eat in Uruguay or the one you make at home,” Bueno added.

At Atlético, Griezmann has gotten to know several Argentinians, including Rodrigo De Paul, Nahuel Molina, and Ángel Correa, three players who will face the Frenchman in Sunday’s final in Qatar. At Barcelona, he also shared a dressing room with Messi.

And so, despite being Mbappé’s team-mate, Griezmann admitted that “with Leo in front of us it will be completely different. We know Messi, but they have a group behind them that works very well, like ours, that goes to the end with him. And they have all the fans behind them”.

Griezmann knows just how good Messi is and is aware of the enormous threat he offers, however, the France creator has had an excellent tournament and could be the difference as Didier Deschamps’ men look to retain the Jules Rimet trophy on Sunday.

GSFN | Kieran Quaile

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