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The rise of Antoine Griezmann: Too short to reach the top

From rejections for being too small to a note inviting him on trial with Real Sociedad, it’s the story of Antoine Griezmann’s rise to the top

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Olympiacos FC v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

At just twelve years of age, Antoine Griezmann was struggling to find a football club that wanted him. He was simply too short. His technical ability was obvious but there was a reluctance to put time and effort into a player who might never grow into a professional footballer.

Griezmann had started playing football with Union du Football Mâconnais when it became apparent that he had, as the French call it, a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. His Father, a coach, had drilled the love of football into the diminutive attacker, and his dream was to play for Lyon but when they too rejected him for being “too small”, he was heartbroken before returning back to Mâconnais surrounded by the vineyards of Meconnais and Beaujolais. As he continued to kick football in his hometown as though it was a religion, he was like those grapes on the vine; maturing with every passing day.

His Mother found pieces of work from when he was a child and written on it was that he wanted to be a professional footballer. “Already in primary school,” she said,

Antoine Griezmann would not be deterred.

His brother Theo recalls him answering questions to a fake Canal+ microphone in pre and post-match interviews and another relative explains that he “wanted to look like Pavel Nedved” and bleaching his hair to make his wish come true. He would fly through exams at school because he simply did not care. He only ever wanted to be one place; on the football field. A picture starts to emerge of a kid obsessed with becoming the best. But that didn’t help him grow and he was still struggling to convince anyone to take a chance on him.

Real Madrid CF v Real Sociedad de Futbol  - Liga BBVA Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

There were trips to “Lyon, Auxerre, Sochaux, Montpellier and Saint-Étienne,” but always the same response, his father recalls. Too short.

A note that changed it all

“Don’t open this note until you get home,” Griezmann was told by a scout at one trial. The scout, obviously trying to keep his interest in the youngster under the radar, had given Griezmann a note and pushed it into his pocket. Griezmann did what he was told.

When he finally made it back to France, he opened the letter and in it was an invitation to go on trial for Real Sociedad. Someone had finally taken notice.

Griezmann was well on his way but there was still a pitfall or two, one in particular that Manuel Gonçalves, the President of UF Mâconnais, refers to as the “bullshit of youth” when he was suspended for year for a night out in Paris with the French under-21 team after a win against Norway in a first leg play-off for the European Championships.

They would lose the second leg and Griezmann along with four other members of the squad were suspended for a year including Wissam Ben Yedder, Chris Mavinga and Mbaye Niang and Yann M’Vila, who received an extra six months for past disciplinary problems.

Griezmann seeks a challenge

An NBA-fanatic, Griezmann never grew to be one of those seven-footers he watches every night slam dunking the ball from unimaginable heights. Nowhere near it. But he continued to seek challenges and none was more relentless than his start at Atletico Madrid.

“I needed a club like that and a coach like Diego Simeone to progress. I always demand intensity in training. That's my style and I like it,” he said at the time.

He was brought in during the summer of 2014 to replace Diego Costa in a deal that cost the club €30 million but he struggled immensely in his first six months. For those who didn’t know of Griezmann, they could have easily written him off when he travelled with his rojiblancos teammates to the Anoeta having failed to finish his first 10 games in an Atletico shirt. He played for five minutes at the end of that game - a 2-1 Atletico loss - on his return north and the signs were not good.

In many ways, those first three games against Real Sociedad with Atletico Madrid are a snapshot of his rise to the top. It’s like a three act play, the same character but three very different roles.

The first game, a disaster, where he only played five minutes and Atletico lose. In the return fixture in April of 2015, Griezmann scored one, played all ninety minutes and was in the middle of what was his best goalscoring spell of that season with eight goals in five games. It was a tap-in, but a sign that things were starting to turn in his favour.

And then there was this, in October 2015. A world class effort by a man who was becoming a world class player. Griezmann had defied the odds.

Along with technical ability and an insatiable desire to be the best, another thing it seems Griezmann is not short on was perseverance.

“I knew that I was coming here to learn,” he said.

He did not question his coach on why he took him off and did not question his coach when he played. It was just another hurdle to overcome and one he did with his eyes on the ball.

At 1.76 metres tall, Griezmann might still be considered short but he is not short of admirers, or fans, or goals, or ability, or prospects for the future....and the list goes on.