Victory in a second World Cup final would have to elevate Antoine Griezmann into the pantheon of greats that got away from Man United.
When a besuited and shaggy Antoine Griezmannstrolled into the Old Trafford press conference room in March, the Atletico Madrid official might have quipped ‘look what you could have won’.
Manchester United had lost to Atletico almost five years on from losing out on Griezmann, so loyal to Atleti he remained in Madrid after the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld their transfer ban.
Two days before United’s Europa League final triumph over Ajax in May 2017, Griezmann had teased United fans on French television that there was a ‘6/10’ chance he would sign for them.
In the pantheon of ones that got away, Griezmann does not quite roll off the tongue like Gascoigne, Shearer, Ronaldinho et al. A second World Cup would automatically place him in that company.
Back in March, Griezmann was asked whether he was surprised by United’s decline since his very French flirtation with them.
I think it’s always difficult whether they’re in the league, the Champions League, it’s never easy,” he said. “Some opponents sign certain players, go to different teams.
“But it’s often very difficult to win the championship, to win the Champions League, to win the Europa League.”
‘Some opponents sign certain players’ said a lot whilst saying a little. Griezmann dodged a bullet, although he became tainted by the hedonistic spending at Barcelona, who triggered his €120million release clause in 2019.
Griezmann’s infamous Decision in 2018 suggests he would have jarred with Jose Mourinho’s management. Griezmann is close with Paul Pogba, after all.
Griezmann’s brother, Theo, purported to be a United fan and Antoine filmed an advert where he rejected a call from ‘Jose’ a day before United were informed he had truly rejected them. The impact of United’s summer signings has reinforced character is as vital as quality and United have accommodated too many egomaniacs, none more so than the brand-obsessed Pogba.
Griezmann’s Netflix documentary was as hollow as you would imagine from a footballer who marketed their decision to reject a transfer to Barcelona. There are Oscar-speech tears and it attempts to depict Griezmann as the victim over Atleti fans’ subsequent booing of him.
This World Cup has shown Griezmann is, on the pitch, at least, a selfless superstar. He has always oozed that trait, drummed into him through nearly seven years working under Diego Simeone, a coach who embodies the collective more than any of his peers.
Marca described Griezmann’s performance in Atletico’s Champions League round-of-16 win at Old Trafford nine months ago as ‘the perfect match’.
“He was one of the most outstanding players, for what was seen and for what was not,” Lorenzo Lara wrote. “He knew what he had to do at all times. When to attack and when to defend. He was key in the winning goal with an assist to Lodi and in the second-half when he had to defend the result, his sacrifice and delivery was brutal, sometimes placing himself as the second right back.”
Griezmann has not scored at his third World Cup but he was decisive against England and the Frenchman who idolises David Beckham so staunchly he wears long sleeves whipped in a cross worthy of the United great for Olivier Giroud’s winner. Griezmann was the man of the match in the semi-final against Morocco.
Few have paused to contemplate what if Griezmann had joined a renascent United in 2017. Figures at the club protested Romelu Lukaku was their principal target and the No.9 was maybe more aligned with Mourinho. Only Griezmann’s work ethic and sacrificial streak outweigh Lukaku’s formidable physicality. Mourinho told confidants he craved a ‘magician’ and Griezmann is still magic to watch.
Mourinho‘s contacts at Atletico cautioned as early as March 2017 that Griezmann’s bond with Atletico was tight enough to deprive United of his services. United scouted Andrea Belotti, then at Torino. Alvaro Morata was used as a pawn to draw out Lukaku.
n the 2018 World Cup final, Griezmann struck the winner after Ivan Perisic – another Mourinho miss in the previous year’s transfer window – had equalised for Croatia. In Sunday’s final, France could start others with a fleeting association with United – Dayot Upamecano, Ousmane Dembele and Adrien Rabiot.
Raphael Varane pulled on the red shirt a decade later than intended. Griezmann is unlikely to ever swap Madrid for Manchester now.