Antoine Griezmann has had an intermittent season with Atlético Madrid but looks like he's getting his mojo back - which is good news for France this summer, writes Andy Brassell...
"His early winner at Málaga on Saturday was his fourth goal in five games, and was followed by a mighty all-round effort as Atleti typically dug in for the win, maybe proving you can have both strands of his playing character - the dazzle and the industry."
When Antoine Griezmann reacted to Atlético Madrid's FIFA player registration ban by pledging his allegiance to the club, it should have made his place in the club's modern-day hall of fame safe. Instead, this season has been a strained one, beset by the feeling - not unlike the one that followed around Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, another one who might have flown the nest last summer, at Borussia Dortmund - that maybe he'd stayed a little too long.
It reached a nadir in last week's win over Valencia. With Atleti leading 1-0, Griezmann led the team on a breakaway which, if he played it right, looked like having a good chance of sealing the deal. Instead, he stopped, turned and slowed the play done, concentrating on keep-ball, much to the ire of the fans at the Wanda Metropolitáno. As the whistles rained down, Griezmann raised a hushing index finger to his lips.
Simeone's go-to guy
For some of the locals, it was a step too far. They'd put up with the flirting with other clubs - notably Manchester United - and the autumn goal drought, but chiding the fans was too much. When Griezmann does move on this summer, it won't be a moment too soon for some supporters.
If this does turn out to be one of the moments which denies him legendary status at Atleti, it would be a strange hill for his reputation to (partially) die on. The move to caution above daring, perspiration ahead of inspiration, is the embodiment of what Diego Simeone's credo is all about. That total investment in the Atleti cause, obscured by the insolence of the action that followed it, is absolutely what makes Griezmann such an integral piece.
Is he too hard-working?
It is also the sort of industry that will make France coach Didier Deschamps delighted when the day comes for his star forward to leave Los Rojiblancos. Deschamps dreads having to recoup a player for the World Cup who has been put through the mill for 50+ games, knowing he won't get him at optimum form, and that Griezmann's effort means that lucidity in front of goal is sacrificed on occasion.
The same could be said of Edinson Cavani, a player Griezmann feels a real kinship with, who is labelled a serial miser of chances despite his extraordinary goalscoring record. While Griezmann's season has been uneven, though, he has shot back to form of late without jettisoning that prodigious workrate. His early winner at Málaga on Saturday was his fourth goal in five games, and was followed by a mighty all-round effort as Atleti typically dug in for the win, maybe proving you can have both strands of his playing character.
Giroud could be his Diego Costa
Clearly Griezmann will be Deschamps' leading man in Russia, and happily looks fresh and full of energy. He had a false start to his campaign, banned after his opening day red card at Girona, and he now has Diego Costa to take some of the physical burden off him, a role that Olivier Giroud, his preferred partner at international, could again replicate even with competition from Kylian Mbappé among others. Deschamps may be pleasantly surprised at Griezmann's fettle this summer, in which he is [17.5] to finish top scorer.
If anyone is to be adversely affected by this, it might his long-standing friend Alexandre Lacazette. The two pals share many of the same characteristics - speed, composure in front of goal and, of course, the beaverish appetite for work. If Griezmann is close to his full capacity, though, is a struggling Lacazette worth taking after his travails with Arsenal, even as cover? It would be a sad twist of fate given that - without the registration ban - Griezmann and Lacazette could have been partners at Atlético.
Whatever Deschamps decides when the time comes, it looks like he'll be able to rely on Griezmann entering prime form to spearhead current [7.4] third favourite France's challenge.