Antoine Griezmann has again openly broached the possibility of joining Manchester United in an autobiography in which he comes across as a very likeable and engaging person but which might also suggest the France international is in need of more professional career guidance.
“In general a reserved character and not a big talker,” reads the back cover of “Behind the Smile,” which could surprise those who have heard Griezmann speak regularly over the past 12 months about the possibility of joining United, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.
The book, published in Spanish translation this November and co-written with French journalist Arnaud Ramsay, will definitely not stop the rumour mill from grinding on, with many rojiblanco fans and pundits already wearied by a lack of respect to his club while his form has been patchy this season.
“For months now my name has come out linked with Manchester United,” Griezmann writes. “The English press said they were willing to pay €100 million, that is, my release clause. I was not going to waste time denying it. No matter how much I repeat that I am delighted at Atletico, that I have a great coach and great teammates, they ask me regularly about my future. At Real Sociedad I realised I had reached a moment where I had to move to keep progressing, that has not happened at Atletico Madrid. Although, again, I rule nothing out.”
There is also an admission that Griezmann’s previous agent, Eric Olhats, spoke with United about a possible transfer last summer, and his friendship with fellow France international Paul Pogba pops up regularly when talking about the Old Trafford outfit.
“I have nothing against England, apart from the weather,” he jokes. “Manchester United is a possibility. Although I love Paul Pogba a lot, that he is a Red Devil will not affect my decision. Eric spoke at the time to Manchester United in an informal way, I didn’t.”
“I don’t know if one day I will wear the Manchester United jersey” opens another chapter, in which he talks of all the great players to wear the club’s No. 7 through the years and explains that he has always worn that number because of David Beckham being his “absolute role-model.”
The startlingly honest autobiography also reveals many deeply personal details about his relationship with his family. He opens up about how leaving home at 14 to join Real Sociedad has affected his relationship with his family and reveals that a disagreement with his mother over whether to invite cousins to his wedding led to a poor performance in a La Liga game against Espanyol. There are also fascinating tidbits about life at Atletico, including a peek inside a team meeting last season in which he aired disagreements about tactics with “volcanic” coach Diego Simeone.
Then there are confirmations of offers from other clubs over the years. He says he rejected an approach from Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola in 2011, chose Atletico over Tottenham in 2014 and turned down Paris Saint-Germain in 2015.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger also missed his chance. Gunners scout Gilles Grimandi told Olhats in the summer of 2013 that Wenger was interested, so Griezmann “put aside all other offers.”
But then …
“I waited, I waited, and I kept waiting … when there was no news, Eric called Grimandi, who said that the manager was still interested in me [and] to keep waiting. Finally a few hours before the market closed, he let us know Arsenal would not make a move. I don’t like to be told something and for it not to happen. So when Eric told me later that the London club were interested again I told him ‘Forget it, after the blow they gave us.'”
A big fan of the NBA and of the USA in general, Griezmann ends the book by saying he would like to finish his career at Beckham’s proposed MLS franchise in Miami. It is difficult to believe the cleverly advised former England captain would have been so open while he was a player. But Griezmann seems to see no reason not to share everything — including that he has recently broken with Olhats and his previous image rights agency to allow his sister, Maud, to look after his affairs.
It seems Griezmann really does shy away from the “big business” end of the game. When Portuguese superagent Jorge Mendes called two years ago with a proposal, Griezmann says he was just not interested:
“Mendes wanted to talk to me, to propose something. I didn’t answer, just let him leave a voicemail.”
This freshness and unpretentiousness have helped make Griezmann into France’s favourite footballer — attracting lots of commercial opportunities — and make his book a really enjoyable read.
But such a remarkable openness about everything will likely also pose challenges in the future, especially should he finally end up in the fishbowl at Old Trafford.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan