Antoine Griezmann is the maestro that makes France sing, England must stop him in Qatar

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All eyes will be on the French number 10 when England take on Les Bleus on Saturday, but stopping the man who still wears seven on his back due to an old obsession with David Beckham will be just as important.

Antoine Griezmann is the ‘little prince’ letting Kylian MbappĂ© be king and keeping the peace in France’s surprisingly congenial dressing room in Qatar.

He’ll be 32 next March: he’s a veteran of the 2018 World Cup win and already breeding racehorses as a player with one eye on what he’ll do when his career is over. But the soft-spoken Football Manager video game addict, who also runs his own talent agency for young players, is performing as well as at any point in his international career.

Antoine Griezmann has been in good form so far at the World Cup in Qatar for France

Antoine Griezmann has been in good form so far at the World Cup in Qatar for France

Kylian Mbappé is the main star of France, but Griezmann is also a key piece in his team

Kylian Mbappé is the main star of France, but Griezmann is also a key piece in his team

France suffered injury setbacks before the tournament began, and Griezmann’s friend Paul Pogba was one of the first to be ruled out. At one point, it seemed that Pogba’s return to Manchester United would ensure Griezmann ended up at Old Trafford, where he had wanted to go since he fell in love with Beckham.

There were chances, but his wife Erika had her heart set on raising their children in Spain, so Griezmann never made the switch.

Pogba was always the strongest motivating voice in the French dressing room. His speech before the World Cup final four years ago is the most famous example. Griezmann has never been so vociferous, but he has helped fill the void, speaking out before games. And, as someone who knows what it’s like to lift the trophy, he is respected and listened to.

The other big blow leading up to the tournament was that Karim Benzema failed to get fit in time, but although France lost the Ballon d’Or winner, they gained a harmony in the dressing room that otherwise would not have been possible.

With Benzema and MbappĂ© in the squad, there were two number 1s. The pair don’t get along very well, partly because Benzema felt slighted when MbappĂ© indicated he would join him at Real Madrid, only to stay at Paris Saint-Germain. .

Griezmann has ensured that things have gone well for France despite the absence of key names like Paul Pogba

Griezmann has ensured that things have gone well for France despite the absence of key names like Paul Pogba

Now Mbappé is the undisputed leader and if there is another player on his level in terms of position then it is Griezmann who is much happier to step back from the spotlight.

“He gets along with everyone,” says Antoine Simonneau of L’Equipe. ‘Older players like Hugo Lloris, Adrien Rabiot and Raphael Varane, as well as Ousmane Dembele, whom he helped at Barcelona and Theo and Lucas Hernandez, whom he knows from Madrid; all the world. There is a good spirit in the group, there is no tension.

Griezmann has spent his entire career in Spain since being hired by Real Sociedad at the age of 13. They didn’t want him in France: six clubs turned him down, Metz most dauntingly turned him down, having made clear the interest in him only to dismiss him as “too much”. small’.

He arrived on the fast track to the Real Sociedad first team at the age of 18, and when he scored his first goal he jumped a billboard and got into the sponsor’s car parked in front of the stands. Three teammates jumped out and Griezmann pretended to drive. Crazy goal celebrations became his thing: diving into a pile of snow and posing with a security guard were other notables.

When he went to Atlético Madrid, there were doubts that this flighty and physically unimposing winger would make it under Diego Simeone, but he became a versatile striker and that helped attract the attention of United and, eventually, Barcelona.

Barça lacked the vision to do what France has done and turn them into a midfielder. His two years there will always be remembered as disappointing.

Griezmann is a popular figure in the France squad and has maintained harmony in the dressing room.

Griezmann is a popular figure in the France squad and has maintained harmony in the dressing room.

Gareth Southgate must figure out how to keep Griezmann quiet if England are to beat France

Gareth Southgate must figure out how to keep Griezmann quiet if England are to beat France

But his teammate Martin Braithwaite told Sportsmail last month: “People who don’t understand only see things that are really visual, like a guy getting past opponents or scoring goals.” But it has a lot of quality. It was amazing to play with him. He sees passes, he’s generous and works hard, a true team player.”

Now, with France, it is MbappĂ© who passes in front of the crowd and scores the goals, but while the Paris Saint-Germain star is the cymbal and resounding gong up front, it is Griezmann with the conductor’s baton in the midfield.

“He was never really called ‘little prince’ in France,” says Simonneau. ‘It was a name they gave him in Spain. For us he is the teacher, the light of the team.’

If England can put it out on Saturday, they will have a much better chance of leaving Mbappe and company in the dark and reaching the semi-finals.