This was supposed to be the tournament where Neymar cleared Messi and Ronaldo from the stage and pushed himself forward as the star player to lead planet earth in the unlikely event football-based Space Jam-scenario were to come to pass.
As it is, the fate of the planet may rest at Kylian Mbappe’s feet, not Neymar’s.
Though Brazil’s focal point flashed his talent – and was a Thibaut Courtois hand away from providing one of the moments of the tournament – his Russia 2018 will be more remembered for his flounces and forward rolls than his flicks or finishes.
The 26-year-old memeified himself so brutally he became the symbol of football fakery at this year’s tournament, stealing the limelight from others whose ridiculous behaviour may have deserved more scorn.
Enter Antoine Griezmann.
Much like Neymar – and the Monstars for that matter – the French-Basque forward sometimes gives the impression that he lives in an alternate reality.
And, in a sense, he does, the life of a millionaire footballer being what it is, but we can still cast our mortal eyes towards the gods and project our own puny understanding on their actions.
And what we see may not be all that pleasant.
The Atletico Madrid star still hints at a childish innocence on the pitch, grasping at his over-long sleeves like the 7-year-old who plays three age groups higher because he’s just that good. Less appealing is his juvenile streak that looks so out-of-place in a 27-year-old professional.
French football writer Philippe Auclair recently talked about Griezmann’s head, and specifically how the forward does not seem to be “well in it”.
You can see where he’s coming from when you consider how Grizi set up his own LeBron-esque “Decision” documentary (what is it with basketball references today?) to announce his club future, which was broadcast two days before France’s first match in Russia.
Mi afición, mi equipo, MI CASA! @atleti ?⚪?
Mes supporters, mon équipe, MA MAISON ! @AtletiFR ?⚪?
— Antoine Griezmann (@AntoGriezmann) June 14, 2018
Why this diversion was necessary given he was staying with his current club is not clear.
And maybe it wasn’t a distraction at all, but Griezmann’s luke-warm performance against Australia in the opener suggested otherwise. He was hauled off in that game, and angrily sulked because Didier Deschamps dared to impinge on the magical realm of Antoine’s multimedia adventure in Russland. His antics also wound up other players within the squad, according to reports.
Since then, off-field interests have have been cut out and team harmony fostered, leading to a second World Cup win as other, more fancied sides fell away. Even then, with the diminutive forward in the lineup and supposedly the attacking lead of the side, it has been Mbappe, a coming force of nature in the footballing world, who has torn through the competition and whose image will live long in the memory from Russia, not Griezmann’s.
You might wonder which of these is the teenager when you consider Griezmann’s biggest splash in Russia has come from his Fortnite-inspired celebrations, holding his crotch and planting an L-shape on his forehead after sliding home a questionable penalty here and there.
Before the quarter-final meeting with Uruguay, Griezmann began to talk about how he feels “half-Uruguayan”, a feeling that seems sincere if tone-deaf, but which is strikingly odd both from the perspective of French fans, who’d be forgiven for wondering if he was more interested in Uruguay than France, as well his opponents, who may not have relied on it for motivation like the Croats did with English presumptions, but who could’ve still drawn on the condescension.
What’s clear is Luis Suarez was not flattered by it, a rare occasion where the Barcelona forward come out looking better.
If Edison Cavani had been fit, you’d wonder how Uruguayan Griezmann would’ve felt after that game.
And, while we’re talking about basketball, you’d think Griezmann would’ve learned from a previous episode about taking on the cultural trappings of others, even if they’re supposed to be “a tribute”.
Finally, there’s the “simulation” – an offence FIFA seem to have lost interest in at this tournament – Griezmann sold to referee Nestor Pitana to earn a free-kick, which he then delivered onto the unfortunate scalp of Mario Mandzukic and into the Croatian goal to make it 1-0 to France. Chapeau Grizi!
France are worthy champions, with a team filled with stars who could go on to dominate football for a generation, but Griezmann acts like someone half his age rather than the senior figure he could be in a great team.
It’s a shame because, as part of a underdog Atletico sides, it is hard not to root for him and his teammates as they disrupt the superpowers of Spain and Europe.
We all know where he’s staying now (great vid!), but maybe Antoine needs that L tattoed on his forehead in red as he clearly still has a lot to learn about class.