World Cup 2014: Why Antoine Griezmann Will Carry France Without Franck Ribery

Chris WinterburnFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2014

France's soccer player Antoine Griezmann, runs during a training session at the Clairefontaine training center, outside Paris, Wednesday, June 4, 2014. France are preparing for the upcoming soccer World Cup in Brazil starting on 12 June. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Christophe Ena/Associated Press

When Franck Ribery was last week ruled out of the 2014 World Cup, widespread panic ensued amongst French supporters. However, in the form of Antoine Griezmann, French coach Didier Deschamps has a player who can not only take Ribery's place but also carry France to the latter stages of the tournament.

The absence of last year's Ballon d'Or finalist is unsurprisingly an unwanted problem for Deschamps. However, with 23-year-old Griezmann having improved at a frighteningly quick rate over the course of the past two seasons with Real Sociedad, it is not too controversial a statement to suggest he can take Ribery's place.

Griezmann is a wonderfully focused attacking winger who, in a Sociedad team which does lack stars, can double up as a centre-forward. France have Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud to choose from in that role, however the ability to cut inside from the left flank which Griezmann possesses is likely to make opposition defences' jobs that bit tougher.

Group E has from the outset looked a favourable one for Les Bleus with Ecuador, Switzerland and Honduras, on paper at least, unlikely to pose too much of a threat to the one-time World Cup winners.

With that in mind, it is likely that the defensive focus of the three aforementioned teams will be significantly higher when facing France. This is a situation where Griezmann can truly make a difference.

His movement both on and off the ball, even from the wide areas, makes him essentially an extra forward to defend against. He is adept at stretching a defensive line and pulling a centre-half out of position which is something we have often seen in La Liga with Carlos Vela the player who benefits.


Franck Ribery is at his best when running with pace against defenders and then using his low centre of gravity to cut inside and take the aforementioned defender out of the move entirely. This is something the French will miss with Griezmann not quite at the same level in that regard.

Despite standing only ever so slightly taller than Ribery, Griezmann does not possess the same low centre of gravity. He is a rather more graceful winger who can beat a defender on the outside before delivering a cross into the penalty area.

This is not to say he isn't a handful when cutting inside but the effectiveness of the move is far less pronounced than that of Ribery.

In terms of goal scoring, Griezmann provides a high level of goals from midfield. In La Liga this season, Griezmann netted 16 goals as shown by WhoScored

Despite what recent results would suggest, France has an incredibly strong spine running through the team. Starting with both goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris, moving onto Laurent Koscielny at the heart of the defence and the powerful pairing of Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi in central midfield with Karim Benzema, the vastly experienced goal-scorer, leading the line.

Having this group of players gives Didier Deschamps confidence in his preferred 4-2-3-1 system and the physical strength of a midfield containing both Pogba and Matuidi makes Antoine Griezmann's job easier too.

He does not have to worry about what is going on behind him, Griezmann is safe in the knowledge that Pogba and Matuidi will solve any problems in midfield and thus he can be entirely focused on attack, even if this does make Patrice Evra's job at left-back significantly more challenging.

What Griezmann does bring to the side which Ribery struggled to replicate is innate technical ability. Everything positive about Ribery's football is done with quick feet whilst Griezmann is so adept at doing things both at pace but also at a slower tempo.

Griezmann's deft control and fantastic first touch means he can receive the ball in any area in an opposing team's half and be instantaneously effective.

With matches likely to become stretched in the humid climate of Brazil, and with the dry pitches sure to contribute to matches played at a slower tempo, it will be in France's best interest to get the ball to Griezmann and trust his creative instincts to make something happen.

Griezmann, a long-time Arsenal target according to Metro, was talked about by Deschamps in glowing terms when given his international debut earlier this season, as reported by UEFA's Christian Chatelet:

He is very clinical, scores a lot of goals and creates a lot of goals.

He is equally comfortable on either side and through the middle.

On top of that, he is tactically very aware.

The omission of Samir Nasri from the World Cup squad was a surprise to many outside of the inner Les Bleus circle. Following Ribery's injury, there were faint calls for Nasri's return. However, aside from being a danger to team morale, he is too similar to the attacking talents already in the French squad. Griezmann isn't.

As Bleacher Report's Jonathan Johnson points out, Griezmann is the only naturally left-sided player Deschamps can choose from, with Mathieu Valbuena, Giroud and Benzema all preferring to work through the middle: "None of that key trio can be considered a naturally left-sided player, though, whereas Griezmann can be and is thoroughly familiar with the role."

Griezmann has the potential to be the talisman France so desperately crave. Too often in years gone by, particularly in South Africa in 2010, the French side has lacked a footballing leader on the field.

Now this does not mean a captain, or an individual who can spark a team into life with a well-rehearsed rallying call but rather an individual who performs in a carefree manner on the pitch and thus produces moments of magic to inspire a team.

Griezmann is that individual and, given the platform of a World Cup in Brazil combined with his ability to create chances and score himself, there is every possibility he could drive France to at least the semi-final stage of the tournament.