FIFA.com speaks exclusively with FIFA World Cup-winning star Antoine Griezmann A UEFA Europa League and Super Cup winner with Atleti in 2018 On the 11-player shortlist forThe Best FIFA Mens Player 2018 Antoine Griezmann is not your everyday footballer. This is a player who celebrates his goals with a dance from a video game, who announced his decision to turn down a move to Barcelona and stay at Atletico Madrid in a documentary filmed while he mulled it all over, and who loves basketball as much as – if not more so than – football, and takes selfies and swaps messages with the stars of NBA. Just to cap it all, he also feels as much of a Uruguayan as he does a Frenchman.
Still basking in the glow of winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, the Bleus and Colchonero star is enjoying a superb 2018, a year he is hoping to cap by claiming The Best FIFA Mens Player award.
Breaking away from his preparations for what he hopes will be an exciting club season, Griezmann, who is continuing to aim high with Atleti, spoke to FIFA.com about what have been a truly memorable few months.
FIFA.com: A World Cup Trophy with France and the UEFA Europa League with Atletico Madrid, not to mention the UEFA Super Cup and another nomination for The Best. Where does 2018 rank for you?
Antoine Griezmann: Its the most important year of my career because Ive won three titles. I was on the losing side in two finals in 2016, in the Champions League and the UEFA EURO, and it was just what I was looking for, what I needed and what I play for: to win titles. Im very happy with and proud of this 2018, and with my nomination for The Best. Im among the best thanks to my national team and my club.
People have been talking about the end of the [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo era, but theyre still up there year after year. Can we expect them to be around for much longer?
Yes, I can see them staying at the top for a long time yet. They want to be the best, they play for top teams, and its still going to be Cristiano, Messi and the rest for a while. Those of us below them have to try and get closer, but its a big gap to close.
Their awareness of each other and the competition between them has pushed them to ever greater heights. Does the fact that youre competing with them to be the best in the game, just as you did in 2016, push you on to be a better player?
I always try to improve on what I did the previous season, because matching what Messi and Cristiano do by scoring 50 to 60 goals a year is very difficult. Theyre on a different level. You can maybe be up there with them one year, but not the next. I do compare myself with Neymar, [Robert] Lewandowski, [Kylian] Mbappe, whos on fire at the moment, and [Eden] Hazard. I try to be the best and see what the others do.
How does it feel to wake up in the morning and say, Im a world champion? Have events in Russia sunk in yet?
You dont realise because this just doesnt stop; youre playing and training the whole time… the UEFA Super Cup, La Liga, and now weve got the national team again. Its the little things that make it sink in, like the second star on the France shirt. But otherwise…
In the case of France, we have to keep on working the way we have been. Weve got the EUROs coming up in two years and we want to win it. And then well see what happens at the World Cup in Qatar. Weve got a very young squad – it was one of the youngest in Russia, I think – and thats going to help us.
France were among the favourites at Russia 2018 and went on to win it, but quite a few contenders went home early. Whose exit surprised you the most?
Brazil [in the quarter-finals] because they were looking very strong. I think they only lost one game in the qualifiers, and the South American preliminaries are very tough.
Brazils elimination left four European sides in the semi-finals. Is that a one-off or do you think the gap between Europe and the rest of the world is growing?
I think were better prepared tactically in Europe. Weve got coaches who like tactics and work on them a lot, and I think thats where the difference lay at this World Cup.
France won the World Cup two years after losing a UEFA EURO final. What did the team have in Russia that it didnt in 2016, aside from the little details that usually decide the big games?
We had a bit of luck. You always need a bit of luck if youre going to win, and then there was the fact that we had a different team. We had more attacking firepower at the World Cup than we did at the EUROs, and we were a much more difficult team to break down at the back.
France came in for criticism at the World Cup, as have Atleti at times. Do you see any problem with winning with a style of play thats not based on possession?
The fault for all that lies with [Pep] Guardiola and his Barcelona side (laughs). Everyone wanted to play tiki-taka with a 4-3-3 because they won the lot, but you have to have the players to do that and a philosophy focused on that style of play, like Barça, who worked on it with their young players in the academy. In France its the type of football we played at the World Cup that works for us, and its the same with Atleti. Were not going to change.
Of all Frances games in Russia…
Peru (laughs). You were going to ask me which was the hardest one, werent you? Yes, it was Peru. And that was the game that made us believe in the 4-4-2 formation and in playing how we played through to the Final (France began the tournament with a 4-3-3 before switching systems for the meeting with La Blanquirroja). The crowd was almost all Peruvian and it was like a home game for them (laughs). It was very tough, but we stayed strong at the back and as a unit. Peru played well in Russia, but maybe lacked experience.