Olivier Giroud is one sexy Hollywood leading man but MLS needs Griezmann

Ryan Baldi
Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud are excellent MLS signings
Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud are excellent MLS signings

Olivier Giroud is set for a busy summer. The French national team’s all-time leading scorer is expected once again to aid Les Bleus in a deep tournament run at the European Championship. Then, with the MLS summer transfer window opening on 18 July, just four days after the Euro 2024 final, he will sign for LAFC.

According to multiple reports, Giroud has agreed an 18-month deal to become the latest big name to cross the Atlantic when his AC Milan contract expires at the end of the current Serie A campaign. He will be reunited in Los Angeles with fellow 2018 World Cup winner Hugo Lloris, with the aim of spearheading LAFC to play-off qualification for the third year in a row.

And all indicators suggest Giroud will be a hit in LA. The Frenchman is 37, but the form this season of Inter Miami’s Luis Suarez – who is also 37 plus has knees made of Weetabix – suggests age needn’t be a barrier to performance for a wily veteran striker making the move to MLS.

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Giroud appears a perfect fit for LAFC, too. With 14 goals and nine assists for Milan so far this term, he is still operating at a high level. And, from a stylistic standpoint, he fulfils a clear need for the 2022 MLS Cup champions, who lack a high-calibre No.9 to partner in attack with last year’s Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga.

The fact he’s easy on the eye won’t hurt, either. His arrival in LA might not match the hype and hysteria generated by David Beckham’s 2007 switch to the Galaxy, but Giroud offers an element of suaveness and glamour fit for the celebrity-obsessed city.

But if MLS hopes to capitalise on the interest and momentum built by Messi ManiaTM, Giroud’s signing is unlikely to significantly move the needle. For that, the league should be setting its sights on an international colleague of the former Arsenal and Chelsea striker to be its next megastar.

Antoine Griezmann has made no secret of his desire to play in MLS before he retires.

“Saudi Arabia? I understand those who have to go there; we’re talking about incredible sums of money,” the Atletico Madrid forward told Goal in April 2023. “Could I go? I have a family, three children. It’s not an easy decision to make. The MLS is still my priority.”

“I want to finish my time in Europe at Atlético Madrid,” Griezmann told Spanish sports paper AS last year. “I know the club want to make that happen and it’s something we’ll talk about. Beyond Europe, I have always said that I’d like to try MLS later.”

And while Giroud is still an effective striker at the top level, few would argue he is among the best in the world in his role. Even Messi and Suarez, though still maintaining standards of play most players can only dream of, are diminished versions of their all-time-great peaks. As any regular viewer of Spanish football will attest, the same cannot be said of Griezmann – his peak is ongoing.

Another differentiating factor between Griezmann and the megastars of MLS past and present is that his desire to play in the States appears to be motivated by more than money or marketing opportunities. He is an avid fan of the traditional American sports, having been seen attending NBA play-off games after the football season has finished and even commentating on the NFL for Spanish TV.

He understands – adores, even – American sports culture in a way US soccer’s past big-ticket imports have not. As much as MLS wants Griezmann, the feeling is mutual.

Given the fact he has chosen back-to-back Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs as his favourite NFL team, it perhaps should come as no surprise that Griezmann has whittled down his preferred destinations to a choice between the current title favourites and the club who’ve won more MLS Cups than any other.

“I still don’t know if it will be Miami or Los Angeles,” he told French newspaper L’Equipe. “They are two great cities. I like the mentality and the entertainment culture in the United States.”

The snag with any potential Griezmann pursuit is that his Atletico contract does not expire until 2026. Unlike most of the big-name MLS signings throughout the league’s history – from Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Messi, Suarez and now Giroud – he is not available as a free agent.

And the longer MLS waits to court the former Real Sociedad man, the less impactful his eventual arrival is likely to be. He is 33 now, but is arguably as good as ever.

After the abject failure of his €120 million move to Barcelona in 2019, his career appeared to be tracing a steep downward trajectory.  But since returning to Atletico he has melded his stellar technical skills with a veteran’s tactical intelligence to remain one of the most consistent attackers in La Liga, with 19 goals and seven assists from 38 games so far this season.

This version of Griezmann would be a transformative signing for MLS; his acquisition should be a matter of urgent priority.

Messi brought the eyes of the world with him when he arrived in MLS last year. But the next step for the league is to ensure that this new interest is sustained as the Inter Miami superstar ages and eventually retires. Attracting a player of Griezmann’s ability and all-round appeal would be a major leap in that direction. And it cannot come too soon.