Sociedad Boosted By A Born-Again Bad Boy

Antoine Griezmann is working his way back off the French naughty step ahead of the World Cup, but for now he is concentrating on a big Basque derby...

Last Updated: 03/01/14 at 09:20 Post Comment

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Most footballers of a more than decent standard who play for one of the 32 nations in this year's World Cup finals, would have had made a solid resolution at midnight on December 31st to be in their respective nation's squad for Brazil.

However, the declaration from Real Sociedad's Antonio Griezmann across the universe of social media was more emphatic than the norm with the winger yelling: "We begin from zero. The dream has started. French National Team!"

For any French footballer to have enthusiasm for playing for his country is certainly a newsworthy event, but the reason for attention to be paid to Griezmann in this case is that the La Real man is now officially allowed to play for his country.

The midfielder is celebrating the end of a 14-month ban imposed in November 2012, which saw the player barred from action for any side in the French national set-up after some very bad behaviour and curfew-breaking between a couple of Under-21 European Championship qualifiers.

Griezmann and three teammates were at a training camp in Normandy but decided to go nightclubbing. In Paris. Unsurprisingly, this didn't go down well with his superiors who have enough bad behaviour to deal with at the full international level for France, never mind lower down the food chain.

This kind of naughtiness was not especially out of character for Griezmann, a feisty footballer of enormous talent but dubious mentality, a key reason why many a suitor has watched him in the past, but run away with some pace from the chance of signing the Frenchman. Nevertheless, this love of lunacy did involve the only ever goal celebration to involve an actual car, rather than anything imaginary.

Keeping him focussed and in form has been the biggest challenge of his managers at Real Sociedad. However, the exile from the French football side does appear to have a positive impact on a player whose consistently excellent efforts in San Sebastian have been a key part of the rise and rise of Real Sociedad over the past 12 months.

Last season Griezmann netted 10 league goals - an impressive tally for a left-winger (unless you are Cristiano Ronaldo) - but has surpassed this amount already with 11 scored in the current campaign, and 14 in all competitions. Indeed, the 23-year-old heads into Sunday's Basque derby against Athletic Bilbao having netted in eight of the last nine games. "It's a battle and we have to win it," was the view of Griezmann on La Liga's biggest match-up as the season restarts, this weekend.

Griezmann's hot streak has helped La Real move rapidly up the table into fifth, four points behind Sunday's opponents after a terrible start to the season that saw confidence rock bottom due to a tough Champions League campaign. "We gave everything, but it wasn't to be," said the Frenchman.

Despite picking up just the single point from the team's group, the experience was enticing enough to have the Real Sociedad players wanting a return trip, making Sunday's match a crucial one in that challenge. Athletic have recovered from a terrible second year under Marcelo Bielsa which saw the team unrecognisable from the outfit which took apart Manchester United, the season before. Whilst Athletic may not be as dynamic as the Bielsa version or as easy-on-the-eye under Ernesto Valverde, the team has settled into the new San Mamés stadium well and is putting together a committed, consistent campaign.

Those are two words which describe the new Antoine Griezmann, a player who is being coveted by French fans who want some added zest in the team, along with some of the biggest clubs in European football. "I'm not thinking that far ahead," commented Griezmann on the transfer speculation over a move next summer.

The only future a newly-focussed player is concerned about now is Sunday's game, although a starring role in Brazil is clearly on Griezmann's mind.

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