Antoine Griezmann took a leaf out of LeBron James’s book on the eve of the World Cup, taking part in a broadcast entitled La Decision to announce whether he would stay with Atletico Madrid or move to Barcelona.
LeBron infamously announced he’d “take his talents to South Beach” back in 2010 when signing for the Miami Heat. Atletico fans – unlike their Cleveland counterparts – were pleased to hear from the man himself that he would be signing a new contract at the Wanda Metropolitano until 2023.
From the outside, the move was seen as somewhat crass but it’s not known to have caused any disruption within the French camp even with the World Cup on the horizon. It is natural however that such a stunt would bring extra scrutiny on Griezmann’s performances here in Russia.
Although he’s got a goal to his name – a penalty against Australia on matchday one – LeBron he ain’t. Paul Pogba – facing the French press for the first time in two years last weekend – leapt to the defence of his great friend when asked to assess his contributions for Les Bleus so far.
“Don’t touch my Grizou,” the Manchester United man said. "It is not because he didn't score in the last match that it's not the same Grizou. Some say it's because he signed a new contract with his club, but no. As I told you before the World Cup, don't touch my Grizou. You have forgotten the Euro.”
The Euro to which Pogba refers is of course the 2016 European Championships. Griezmann ended up top scorer with six goals but there he also suffered a slow start.
There was an injury-time goal in the second match against Albania as France laboured under Didier Deschamps. Then, as now, France were criticised for being less than the sum of their parts. Somehow Deschamps was unable to have what should be considered as the strongest international squad in Europe functioning as a unit.
Here in Russia they have required luck or magic or both in in their two Group C fixtures thus far against the Socceroos and Peru. Although they have qualified for the next round, they are still not yet assured of top spot.
Deschamps is expected to make changes to the side for the game against Denmark in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow but Griezmann is likely to get another shot in the line-up.
Thomas Lemar is expected to come into the side on the left but the usual system which sees Griezmann as a partner or foil for striker Olivier Giroud – and Kylian Mbappe play from the right – should remain intact.
Sealing a new contract for Griezmann was seen as a huge victory for Atletico, who were genuinely worried he would depart for bigger and better things. He has been a remarkably consistent performer for Diego Simeone; goals and hard work typify his time in the Spanish capital thus far. However, Deschamps does not get the same out of “Grizou” for France.
At this tournament – Lionel Messi aside – the big strikers have shown up and rocketed onto the scorers list. Harry Kane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku and Diego Costa have all impressed in formations that suit them. France instead are still a little out of sorts and still waiting on their best player’s best form.
There is no question that Deschamps will persist with a player he trusts but he difference between France exceeding expectations here at the World Cup and falling short could be the goalscoring form of their No. 7.