Antoine Griezmann of Atletico de Madrid celebrates after scoring the 1-0 during the La Liga match between Atletico de Madrid and UD Almeria played at Civitas Metropolitano Stadium on April 18, 2023 in Madrid, Spain.

An ode to Antoine Griezmann: Atletico’s hero is smiling once again

From the meteoric rise in Madrid, to the depths of hell in Barcelona and back following what was supposed to be the dream move, Antoine Griezmann has seen it all in what were meant to be the best years of his career.

But while we’re all obsessed with peaks and troughs, and players reaching the promised land of the elite level, what if we’re all too caught up in the footballing rat race? Too obsessed with players doing it by the book?

Griezmann is currently ripping up the script and writing his own fairytale ending. One that has been engineered by a forbidden return to former employers, a dazzling World Cup display and the latest in a string of outlandish haircuts.

Two assists in Atletico Madrid’s free-scoring, 5-2 romping of Valladolid over the weekend was the latest in a string of glorious performances from the Frenchman, who continues to sparkle and stand out – not least because of that new, pink do he’s sporting.

Order is restored in the force of La Liga right now. And it’s strangely kind of comforting. Barcelona sits top of the tree and look set to re-establish their annual, one vs one main event tussle for the title with Real Madrid after a few years of chaos, while Atletico quietly sit in third place, merely waiting to pounce as the best underdogs do.

Better yet, they’re doing it with Griezmann back on their side and leading the line for Diego Simeone as he so often excellently did, before making that fateful move to the Camp Nou and losing everything that makes him so wonderful.

He lost his smile.

In exactly the same way Shawn Michaels did during the peak of the Attitude Era, injuries, low morale and missed opportunities saw the Frenchman fall away from the top and become a villain in the footballing landscape.

But Griezmann was never meant to be the villain – even if he did release that strange documentary in 2019 that really tested our love for him.

No. He’s the ultimate babyface. The blue-collar. He possesses flair, charisma, and technical ability in abundance and has a spectacular catalogue of goals to his name. He’s the guy destined for the top.

And while many feel he ‘failed’ by failing to grab the bull by the horns at Barcelona, returning to Atleti and re-discovering his form could be an ascent to the top in itself. Think about it.

It would’ve been incredibly easy for Griezmann – who turned his back on the club that made him a star – to return with his tail between his legs, barely make a splash in a new era for the club and be hastily ushered out having been unable to get back in with the new guard.

But instead, he’s been the man to revitalise the club and breathe fresh air into Atleti once again, giving them a senior figure to lean on off the pitch and, crucially, on it throughout the season.

Currently, only Kevin De Bruyne and Lionel Messi have more league assists than Griezmann in Europe’s top five leagues.

He has 25 goal contributions in 41 games and counting thus far for Los Rojiblancos this season, and put together an imperious World Cup campaign for Didier Deschamps, transformed in a deeper-lying, midfield creator role.

Not only does a season like this take immense ability and talent, it takes mentality after having to eat the humble pie of his failed Barcelona venture.

He’s eaten it, though, has Griezmann. And spat it right back out. Nah, not for me that, he’s said. Life in the old bull yet. 32 years young and instead of tailing off, he’s rebooted the system and become Simeone’s attacking lynchpin once again – all with a new, pink pather-like look that makes him unmissable.

Some may call that a mid-life crisis, but for as long as he’s firing Atletico back up La Liga and re-establishing them as everybody’s favourite underdogs, we’ll call it a breath of fresh air.

Football’s Heartbreak Kid is firmly back in business, and if he keeps going this way, there’s a title shot in the form of silverware for himself and Atletico surely on the horizon.

Perhaps not this season, but the story can’t be complete without the older and wiser veteran helping his beloved side to another major honour before riding off into the sunset.

Griezmann’s got his smile back, and the entirety of the red side of Madrid are smiling right back at him. Grab the box hair dye and dig out your Atleti shirts; the comeback train is at full speed ahead and the pink panther is in complete control.

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