It’s been a good week for Antoine Griezmann. He scored twice in the Spanish Cup on Wednesday to send Barcelona into the last-16; he had already shown he is totally switched on for Quique Setien three days before in the new coach’s first game in charge; and on Thursday he was relaxing courtside watching Barcelona’s basketball team take on Red Star in the EuroLeague.
He’s assimilated into the club’s culture; he’s vital for the new manager; and he’s started to prove that they don’t need to sign a new striker to replace the long-term injured Luis Suarez because he can do the job.
The biggest cheer from the first half of that first game with Setien in charge last weekend came after about 20 minutes when Griezmann sprinted from his position in Barcelona’s attack to right back territory to make an interception. Something about his body language that night said: ‘This is my time now’.
Antoine Griezmann is showing that his time to shine is now at Spanish giants Barcelona
Griezmann has been in fine form having lead Barcelona’s come from behind win at Ibiza
And when he got two goals in midweek to save Barcelona from embarrassment against minnows Ibiza in the cup it felt like a reaffirmation that he is going to be the man to help Setien start well at the Camp Nou and to survive without Suarez.
Griezmann who has played in 27 of Barcelona’s 28 games this season has now scored 11 goals in all competitions, ‘that’s more than Philippe Coutinho managed in the whole of the last campaign’ reported Diario Sport on Thursday. Unfair on Coutinho maybe if you consider him as a midfielder but Griezmann, while maybe not playing in midfield, has been playing in the shadow of the Suarez and Lionel Messi partnership.
He can step out of it now and into Suarez’ shoes. They are big ones to fill because he had scored or assisted 41 percent of Barcelona’s goals before he got injured but there is a feeling at Barcelona that Griezmann will respond to the extra responsibility – he did it under Diego Simeone when he was Atletico Madrid’s most important player.
The £108m summer signing is relishing the chance to take on added responsibility at Barca
It’s a role he is accustomed to, having lead Atletico Madrid with Diego Simeone before
He showed signs of doing it last weekend and on Wednesday in Ibiza, and in the absence of the rested Messi, he was Barcelona’s key man standing up to be counted when the team needed him. How Atletico Madrid could have done with him 24 hours later after they were knocked out of the Cup.
Today Barcelona face Valencia where they have drawn 1-1 in the last two seasons. Last year it was Suarez passing to Messi to salvage a point after Ezequiel Garay had opened the scoring. This time there will be no Suarez so Griezmann becomes Messi’s go to first option.
It was always going to be tough for Griezmann coming into a Barcelona dressing room dominated by Messi and Suarez. He has spoken off the record about how nobody welcomed him more in private and sent him more messages to aid his adaptation off the pitch than Suarez. But it still remains that the South American brothers come as a pack and Griezmann was always going to be the third man at the beginning.
It hasn’t been easy for Griezmann to adapt since making the high profile transfer last summer
The Frenchman had initially struggled to find his place in Barcelona’s star-studded lineup
On the pitch it showed with the passing stats pointing to Messi in particular not giving the ball to the Frenchman. Not out of spite even though it’s well known that he wanted Neymar to sign in the summer. But because it is now burned on to his genius brain that he looks for Suarez – and sometimes Jordi Alba – more than he looks for anyone else on the pitch.
Off the field he was never unwelcoming but there did seem a coldness to their relationship.
‘He’s not someone who speaks a lot and neither do I, so it’s difficult that we talk,’ Griezmann said in one pre-match press conference when asked about their relationship.
He did add: ‘We’ve already had a ‘Mate’ (South American herbal tea) together so we are on the right road,’ but it was the previous phrase that suggested all was not well.
Getting along with Messi has always been integral to becoming a success at Barcelona if you are a new forward player.
It’s a feeling plenty of big name players have felt before, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic never really managed it; Alexis Sanchez had a similar problem and David Villa also struggled at times although he got around it by sacrificing himself and becoming one of Messi’s brilliant wing-men in the 2011 side.
Neymar was a different story. He made it clear from day one that he knew his role was to help Messi. But Messi could also see from the beginning that Neymar had the flamboyance and the thrilling skills to do most of what Messi could do – he was glad of someone to take a little of the workload.
Griezmann also has that talent and yet when he scored twice on his home debut and tried to ingratiate himself with Messi by saying of his second goal: ‘I’ve seen Messi score that type of goal so many times I just copied him’, it didn’t really work.
As some commentators pointed out it was a shame he had not also copied Messi’s style of low-key, natural, celebration. He ran behind the goal to grab a handful of glitter from a prepped steward and then throw it theatrically in the air – It was the perfect example of how to turn a positive story into a negative.
Since Luis Suarez was ruled out with a long term injury, Griezmann has taken his chance well
The 28-year-old is integral to Quique Setien’s plans for success for the rest of the season
There have been no more pre-prepared goal celebrations. He has given low-key, solemn post-match press conferences and looked like a mature and serious signing.
The fans inside the Camp Nou have warmed to him too. Griezmann’s Lebron James rip-off is forgotten and no one ever even thinks about that slightly cringeworthy video about his ‘Decision’ not to join Barcelona at the start of last season.
Now he is seen as the player that can help Barcelona navigate life without Suarez. They used to see him turn up at the Camp Nou as Atletico Madrid’s centre-forward and battle with Gerard Pique even out-jumping him at times despite the height disadvantage. He proved under Simeone he can play as the nine.
It’s not his favourite position but he knew before he arrived that his favourite position – drifting between midfield and attack was Messi’s. He will never be Messi but he could be Suarez for the next four months and if he does he will have cemented his place at the Catalan club for good.
Read More: https://www.kbcchannel.tv | For More Sports | Visit Our Facebook & Twitter @kbcchanneltv | Making The Invisible, Visible