While 2016 was undoubtedly the best year of Antoine Griezmann’s career to date, it was also one in which he was on the losing side in not one but two major finals. As well as breaking into the global elite and earning a place alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the three-man shortlist for The Best FIFA Men’s Player of 2016 award, the front man helped Atletico Madrid and France advance to the finals of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA EURO 2016, only to collect loser’s medals on both occasions.
Despite those two setbacks, Griezmann prefers to look back on the year in a positive light. Fully focused on the challenges that lie ahead this season, he spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his contentment in Spain, the role played by Diego Simeone in his development as a player and the high hopes Les Bleus are harbouring en route to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
FIFA.com: The UEFA Champions League resumes, with Atletico in the mix once again. After losing in the final last year, do you have your sights set on revenge?
Antoine Griezmann: Of course. I’ve got some great memories of last season, but losing that final and the EURO final with France were two of the biggest disappointments of my career. That’s why one of my main short-term objectives is to get back into a final. And I’m convinced that when it happens, I’ll be on the winning side.
Do you have positive or negative thoughts when you reflect on those two defeats?
It’s a bit of both. The days of the matches – both before and during the games – were just amazing. They were the first finals I’ve played in and losing them was not easy. I’ve never liked losing, ever since I was a boy in Macon, my hometown. I couldn’t watch other teams lifting trophies. And the same thing happened with Real Madrid in the Champions League. EURO 2016 was different. I watched the Portuguese celebrating because I told myself that it would be my turn the next time and that I couldn’t have any better motivation than that.
Have you watched the two games again?
No, no. There’s something I have to confess here: I’ve watched all the Champions League and EURO 2016 matches again, but I stopped at the semi-finals (laughs).
Despite losing those games, you had a spectacular 2016, so much so that you made the final three-man shortlist for The Best FIFA Men’s Player award. How did you feel at the gala in Zurich?
Very happy, very proud. It was a dream for me to be among the best players of last season and I hope I can continue on the same path. That said, it goes without saying that I couldn’t have done it without my team-mates at my club and in the national team. They deserve just as much credit.
I guess your coach Diego Simeone has had a lot to do with it too.
Of course! He’s changed me. He’s brought so many things to my game that it’s hard to even begin to say what they are. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t have been regarded as one of the best players in the world if it weren’t for him. More than anything he’s helped me to be more effective in front of goal, to take every chance that comes my way, and, of course, to run and run and work hard for the team. You can’t make it at Atletico if you don’t do that.
What did he say to you on the day of the final against Real Madrid?
He said some things that were very important to me, because I felt it was my fault we lost because I missed a penalty. He came up to me and told me the opposite was true, that I’d been vital to the team, that I shouldn’t worry about it and that it was time for us to start working hard again to get back into the final.
There’s been some speculation about your future lately. How do you feel at Atletico?
I feel great at the club and in Madrid. On a personal level I’m very happy, and in football terms we’re about to move to a new stadium, which is very important. We’ll just have to see what the future brings, but for now I’m very happy here and I hope to win trophies with this club.
Listening to you talk, you sound completely Spanish. Do you feel that way at all?
Yes, the fact is I do feel very Spanish: I eat at two in the afternoon; I talk to my wife and daughter in Spanish; I even think in Spanish when I get angry! So, yes, it’s true. Things change completely when I pull on the national team jersey, though. All my love is for France when that happens, no doubt about it.
Talking of the France team, do you feel that they’re ready to take that final step after falling just short at Brazil 2014 and EURO 2016?
We were a bit unlucky. We had a very good World Cup and we were near perfect at the EUROs, but Portugal defended really well in the final and made the most of the chance they had. I’m an optimist, though, and I think we have a very talented team, a good coach and a great atmosphere in the dressing room. We’ve made a good start on the road to Russia 2018 and I think we can look forward to the future.