Monday 23 July 2018

France focus turns to own script after Griezmann video

Antoine Griezmann is back in action for France after announcing his decision to stay at Atletico Madrid Photo: Getty
Antoine Griezmann is back in action for France after announcing his decision to stay at Atletico Madrid Photo: Getty

Jim White

Antoine Griezmann has spent his entire playing career in Spain. And the jet-heeled French forward seems to have been inspired by the nation in which he works to enter the race to come up with the most ridiculous distraction ahead of a World Cup.

After the saga of Julen Lopetegui, the Spain coach, announcing he was to become Real Madrid manager days before the tournament started - and then promptly being sacked for his trouble - comes Griezmann's bold bid to deliver the most self-aggrandising piece of communication in football history.

Just 48 hours before kick-off in a campaign of which many believe France have a realistic chance of emerging as champions, Griezmann released a video portentously entitled, 'La Decision'.

Replete with Hollywood production values, the work climaxed in the declaration the player would not, as has been assumed, be joining Barcelona next season. Instead, he will remain at Atletico Madrid.

We can only wonder what sort of announcement would have accompanied the reverse decision: Steven Spielberg was presumably on standby to direct the news of a move to the Nou Camp. By a nice coincidence, the production company which made the piece is part-owned by Barcelona's Gerard Pique: that must have pleased his employers.

In Kazan, the brouhaha around the film was the principal topic of conversation among those following the French team. True, it is only Australia they are playing, a side Griezmann himself admitted recently to having heard of only a couple of their number, but the belief among their travelling support was that the players might have been better concentrating on the task in hand.

In the press conference the day before their team begins the tournament, the questions from the French media began and ended with queries about Griezmann.

What did his team-mates make of the video? Had the manager seen it?

"We laugh about it," said Hugo Lloris, the team's captain, of the video, which is surely the best critical response. The most important thing was for him to feel right, to be free of the pressure."

Didier Deschamps, the France manager, did his best to dismiss the issue, initially claiming he had not seen the piece, before jokingly boasting of a central part of its production.

"Actually I filmed it," he smiled. "The way it was delivered is something that seems to concern you (the media). For me, I am more interested in the content of what he said. Two things come to mind, a loyalty and commitment to Atletico. And importantly for us, that he has freed his mind for the World Cup. It is certainly a good thing for us."

If he is right, he has a point. France could use Griezmann with his mind now fully focused on the task in hand.

Youngest

This is a side hardly replete with experience, the youngest collective the French have sent to the World Cup since 1930. Alongside him in a front three bristling with pace and threat, the 27-year-old Griezmann will be joined by Ousmane Dembele, 21, and the brilliant Kylian Mbappe, 19. The manager, however, was not remotely concerned.

"It is not a risk, they are young players but they play for big clubs and are used to important competition," said Deschamps. "They are here because they have the quality."

Quality is the word. This French side ooze excellence. With Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante playing behind that potent front trio, and a centre-back pairing from Real Madrid (Rafael Varane) and Barcelona (Samuel Umtiti), backed up by the huge experience of Lloris, this is daunting opposition.

The bad news for Australia is that they appear to be greeting the Gallic challenge without their most significant player, Mile Jedinak. The Aston Villa midfielder was advertised as attending the team's pre-match press conference.

But FIFA regulations dictate that only players who start the forthcoming match should be present at such events.

When he was replaced in the running order by Mathew Leckie, despite his manager Bert Van Marwijk's insistence that there was nothing to be read into it, the assumption was he would not be lining up against the French.

One player who appears unlikely to start, however, is Australia's own burgeoning star, Daniel Arzani, 19.

Van Marwijk prefers not to follow the Deschamps line on youth, favouring using the Melbourne City playmaker as an impact substitute.

But Arzani and Jedinak notwithstanding, in truth, even if Griezmann were whisked off to Hollywood to star in the next Marvel movie, Australia will do well to emerge with anything other than a sound defeat.

After all, this is a sport in which they cannot even sandpaper the ball to achieve a result.

Irish Independent

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