“I remember telling him: ‘I can’t say if we’ll win anything, but I do know we’re going to have a good time’.” Diego Godin laughed as he recalled the first time he spoke to Antoine Griezmann, a player who has since become one of his closest friends in the game.
That conversation came in the summer of 2014, when the Frenchman was rumoured to be on the point of joining Atletico Madrid. One of the leaders of the Colchonero dressing room, Godin made a point of being the first to welcome him. “We had mutual friends and I knew he was coming so I decided to give him a call,” the Uruguayan told FIFA.com. “I’d been told he was a fun person to be with and that he needed to feel welcome and wanted by people to perform well on the pitch.”
Godin took that last part very seriously indeed. No sooner did the striker make the move to Atleti than the Uruguayan centre-half became his guide and mentor. Griezmann’s passion for yerba mate infusions, which he had developed during his time at Real Sociedad, and other typically charrúa traditions did the rest. “I’ve always said that Antoine loves mate more than many Uruguayans," Godin said, smiling. "He’s one of us. He’s just starting out with the barbecues. He’s done a couple already and he’s gradually picking up the techniques and the tricks of the trade. He’s got a flair for it and he likes it, and it won’t be long before he’s just as good as anyone who knows how to prepare mate.”
The central defender is clearly proud of the skills his friend has nurtured both on and off the pitch. Having faced Griezmann on several occasions during the Frenchman’s days at Real and having since grappled with him on the training ground, Godin is better placed than anyone to discuss his development at Atleti. “He showed the odd flash of brilliance at Real Sociedad and he caught the eye then. He’s kept that up at Atletico Madrid and he’s been a matchwinner for the team in most of the games he’s played. He’s been in among the goals a lot more too, which is what makes strikers what they are.”
Simeone's career-changing instruction
As Godin went on to explain, Atletico coach Diego Simeone is the main reason behind Griezmann’s breakthrough. “As soon as he arrived at the club, the boss asked him to play a decisive role for the team. He told him to play closer to goal. He said that was where he had to be.”
Asked to describe what it is that has allowed the Frenchman to become one of the best players in the world, Godin was equally unequivocal. “He’s become very competitive, at least in the time that I’ve known him. That’s allowed him to maintain the consistency that’s helped him come on so fast in such a short space of time.” So fast, in fact, that Griezmann will be going up for The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2016 award on Monday 9 January against Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi, the two players who have dominated world football over the last few years.
Following a year in which Griezmann had a big hand to play in his side reaching their second UEFA Champions League final in three years and in France advancing to the final of UEFA EURO 2016, Godin believes his friend has done more than enough to win the accolade. “I’d give it to him, first of all because he’s my friend. There are some feelings mixed in there too. He’s a wonderful person with a very big heart. Then there’s the fact that he’s my team-mate. We’ve been in a thousand battles together and he’s helped me win a lot of games. And he deserves it too. I think Antoine’s had an amazing, spectacular year.”
So can Griezmann end the duopoly of Cristiano and Messi? The answer to that question lies with the football writers, the fans and the coaches and captains of the world’s national teams.