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Antoine Griezmann, the player who got away

Antoine Griezmann was born and raised in the town of Macon, an hour north of Lyon.

From an early age, he wanted to be a soccer player. His brother Theo told So Foot he once found a notebook which was supposed to be for school but in which he had drawn pictures of him answering questions from Canal-Plus.

As his sister Maud recalled to the New York Times, Antoine spent many hours kicking a ball at the family garage, pretending he was his hero, the Czech star Pavel Nedved. Maud, who survived the Bataclan shooting in Paris on Nov. 13, served as his goalkeeper and later encouraged him when French scouts looked the other way because of his lack of size.

Normally, Antoine would have gone through one of famous French soccer academies that are the envy of the world. (MLS even has a partnership with the French federation to help clubs develop standards for their academy programs.)

Griezmann played for local clubs l’Entente Charney Macon and UF Macon, but Lyon, Auxerre, Sochaux and St. Etienne -- among the most best producers of French talent -- all turned him down. Metz rejected him twice, the second time after first saying they'd take him.

Griezmann was trying out with Montpellier when his break came. It was at a youth tournament organized by Paris St. Germain when Eric Olhats, a French scout for Real Sociedad who happened to visiting scouting buddies at the tournament on his way back home from a trip to Argentina, spotted him. Olhats handed Griezmann a note for him to read with his parents when he returned home.

“At first, they thought it was a joke,” Griezmann told the Guardian, "but one call was enough."

Real Sociedad wanted him to move to Spain. Griezmann didn't know any Spanish, so he moved to Bayonne, on the other side of the border, where he enrolled in school, and commuted back and forth each day to Real Sociedad's cantera. He was only 14.

“There were nights when I cried and it was hard to sleep,” he told the Guardian. “At that age, you don’t realize what it means to leave home.”

But Griezmann adjusted and played four years in the Real Sociedad youth program before debuting with the first team, then in the second division, at the age of 18. After his first season, Real Sociedad was promoted to La Liga, where he played four more seasons before moving to Atletico Madrid in 2014. He scored 44 goals in two seasons for Atletico, only two less than he had in five seasons with Real Sociedad.

Griezmann played for France at the 2011 Under-20 World Cup but his international career quickly stalled when the French federation banned him for a year for breaking curfew with four other players on the U-21 national team and heading to a Paris nightclub.

The suspension prevented him from playing for France in 2014 World Cup qualifying, and it wasn't until March 2014 that he debuted for the Bleus.

Griezmann, who gets his German name from his father's Alsatian roots, scored both goals on Thursday to give France a 2-0 win over Germany that moved it into Sunday's Euro 2016 final against Portugal -- where his grandfather played for Pacos de Ferreira.
6 comments about "Antoine Griezmann, the player who got away".
  1. Joey Tremone, July 8, 2016 at 7:05 a.m.

    I can only imagine how big his name is in France now.

  2. Miguel Dedo, July 8, 2016 at 8:48 a.m.

    The world needs more Alsatians.

  3. :: SilverRey ::, July 8, 2016 at 12:26 p.m.

    Wait, I'm confused. Who did he get away from?

  4. Vince Leone, July 8, 2016 at 3:21 p.m.

    He got away from people who put too much emphasis on size and moved to play in Spain where skill is more often valued over size.

  5. Adrian Gonzalez, July 9, 2016 at 2:05 a.m.

    Great story ! Chalk one up for skill over size, ala Messi ! and countless others.

  6. stewart hayes, July 10, 2016 at 1:11 p.m.

    I thought the USA was the only place where talent went unrecognized. Size matters if you know what to look for.

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