Real Sociedad are one of the major stories in this year’s La Liga after storming into contention for the next year’s Champions League after only arriving back in the Primera as recently as 2010. They have lost just one match in their last 17 and ended Atletico Madrid’s 100% home record on Sunday to sit in fourth place. European qualification would be a superb achievement for Phillipe Montanier, the Sociedad coach who has assembled this side on well-scouted bargains and talented products form their training centre in San Sebastian. One of those is 21 year old winger Antoine Griezmann.
Whilst playing for his home-town club FC Macon over in France, Griezmann went for numerous trials with higher profile clubs only to be rejected for his small size and lightweight frame. That was until Real Sociedad noticed him playing against PSG’s youth academy whilst on trial at Montpellier. Scouts were impressed, initially offering him a one-week trial which expanded to two weeks, then a full youth contract which his parents reluctantly accepted. The youngster was off to Spain.
His integration into the Sociedad first team was slow, waiting four years before Martin Lesarte, the former boss at the Anoeta, promoted him to the full squad in the pre-season of the 2009-2010. After making his debut in a Copa Del Rey tie against Rayo Vallecano, Griezmann went on to make 30 appearances, scoring 6 goals as the Basque club stormed back to the Segunda championship.
In April 2010, he signed his first professional contract with Sociedad, putting pen to paper on a five-year deal which included a buy out clause of 30 million Euros. With growing interest from Lyon, Saint-Etienne and Auxerre of Ligue 1, as well as Manchester United and Arsenal over in England, the winger, expressing a degree of modesty and humility, chose to stay loyal to the playing time he was receiving at the Spanish club.
In his first year in La Liga, his first game coming against Villareal which he described as a “dream come true”, he went on to start 34 of Sociedad’s 38 league games before going on to start 35 games in the following year, scoring 14 goals in two years as he matured into the wide positions. This season he has missed just 3 matches as his worth to Montanier’s side, at the tender age of 21, becomes increasingly obvious. Despite his huge amount of games at such a young age, the 21 year old has remained largely injury free, only a troublesome hamstring cost him a couple of matches in the December of 2011.
His bright performances also caught the attention of the French youth teams, where he made his debut for the under-19s in a tie with Ukraine in March 2010. With the first leg goalless, Griezmann made his mark in the second with the winning goal in a 2-1 victory.
He then earned a place in the 18-man squad for the 2010 UEFA European Under-19 Football Championship, which France went on to win, earning them a place in the 2011 FIFA under 20 World Cup, for which the winger was again selected. He has since stepped up for the under-21s, making his debut by replacing Gabriel Obertan in a friendly against Russia. With Sociedad now challenging the upper reaches of La Liga, it can’t be long before he is given a call-up to the full squad by coach Didier Deschamps.
Style, Strengths and Weaknesses
Griezmann can play right across the attacking midfield 3, or even as the lone striker in Montanier’s 4-2-3-1. However, he is mostly at home on the left side of the midfield trio as that is where he has played 14 times this season, scoring 5 goals.
Despite appearing regularly on his natural left-side, his ability with both feet and fondness to learn quickly has seen him become a huge asset in terms of his versatility, able to fill in effectively when the Sociedad squad are hit by injuries. His adaptability to a variety of attacking positions at the tender age of 21 bodes well for the future, with Montanier possibly tempted to deploy him more often as a central attacking midfielder as he has registered 2 goals and 1 assists from 3 appearances there this season.
His main attributes are his pace and impressive control which allows him to link the attacking quartet with intricate passing and intelligent lay-offs. The winger is also adept at beating his man to deliver in a dangerous cross, although he has only assisted 3 goals this season, he has created 24 chances for his team-mates, suggesting he is always in the thick of the attacking action. Furthermore, with a passing accuracy of 81%, he is always looking to move the ball on.
Not only that, but these traits also allow him to play as a central-striker where Montanier has fielded him on a couple of occasions this season. His low centre of gravity derived from his lightweight frame being a danger when on the shoulder of the defender, a considerable threat against the usually high-defensive lines of La Liga.
Griezmann also understands his defensive duties which allows him to contribute to Montanier’s game plan of pressing high up the field. His energy and exuberance helps to implement the press on opposition defenders which has become a vital part of the Spanish game. However, his narrow deployment in the 4-2-3-1 system can often leave his full-back Alberto De La Bella exposed, but he does show a willingness to track back, statistics website Squakwa attributing him to an average of 1 defensive action per game.
To summarise, it is his electric pace, close control and strong technical ability to link the play, which makes him difficult to defend against and an asset regardless of what type of match he is in, fast or slow. It is testament to the coaching he has received in San Sebastian that he has become such an intelligent, adaptable player at the age of just 21.
Griezmann is contracted to Sociedad until 2015 and he has already batted away the interest of Manchester United and co. by signing that new deal back in 2010. He is only 21 and seems to be grateful to the education and the playing time he has received from Sociedad which has turned him into one of Europe’s brightest young talents.
However, despite Sociedad’s successful season, they could be tempted to sell their prized youngster should a significant bid come in for him. With his quick, athletic style at home on the left-side of the attack, Spurs have been linked with the young French starlet as they search for a potential replacement for Gareth Bale. It is the English newspaper the Express that believe that Sociedad would sell Griezmann for a fifth of his 30 million Euro release clause.
With his career still in its relative infancy though, there is a feeling that the Frenchman will benefit from a couple more years with the Basque club as he matures. Plus, his small 1.76m and 67kg frame developing in his early 20s, a move to the more physically robust Premier League could harm the next stage of his career. Griezmann will be better seeing out his contract in northern Spain, especially as Sociedad prepare to take on more exciting times.
Featured image via bleacherreport.net.
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