Griezmann: World Cup win hasn't fully sunk in yet

  • 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 for The Best FIFA Men's 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 Men's 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 about what have been a truly memorable few months. 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: It’s the most important year of my career because I’ve 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. I’m very happy with and proud of this 2018, and with my nomination for The Best. I’m among the best thanks to my national team and my club.

LYON, FRANCE - MAY 16:  Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid celebrates after scoring his team's second goal of the game during the UEFA Europa League Final between Olympique de Marseille and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stade de Lyon on May 16, 2018 in Lyon, France.  (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

People have been talking about the end of the [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo era, but they’re 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 it’s still going to be ‘Cristiano, Messi and the rest’ for a while. Those of us below them have to try and get closer, but it’s 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 you’re 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. They’re 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, who’s on fire at the moment, and [Eden] Hazard. I try to be the best and see what the others do.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 09:  The Best FIFA Men's Player nominee Antoine Griezmann of France and Atletico Madrid signs autographs prior to The Best FIFA Football Awards at TPC Studio on January 9, 2017 in Zurich, Switzerland.  (Photo by Valeriano Di Domenico - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

How does it feel to wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m a world champion’? Have events in Russia sunk in yet? You don’t realise because this just doesn’t stop; you’re playing and training the whole time… the UEFA Super Cup, La Liga, and now we’ve got the national team again. It’s 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. We’ve got the EUROs coming up in two years and we want to win it. And then we’ll see what happens at the World Cup in Qatar. We’ve got a very young squad – it was one of the youngest in Russia, I think – and that’s 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.

Brazil’s 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 we’re better prepared tactically in Europe. We’ve got coaches who like tactics and work on them a lot, and I think that’s 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 didn’t 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 you’re 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.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 15:  Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe of France celebrate victory  folowing the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium on July 15, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.  (Photo by Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

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 that’s 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 it’s the type of football we played at the World Cup that works for us, and it’s the same with Atleti. We’re not going to change.

Of all France’s games in Russia… Peru (laughs). You were going to ask me which was the hardest one, weren’t 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.