When we meet, Antoine Griezmann has a lovely big black eye. Geographically it’s just above his left cheekbone – beginning to fade from deep dark purple to what will become a sickly yellow, then eventually disappear underneath his natural, light, Mediterranean tan. For an interviewer, it’s a tempting opportunity. But there’s a minor risk: it’s crucial not to be misunderstood.
We’re on camera and I ask him – straight-faced but with a sufficiently jocular tone for him to catch on – whether he’s willing to swear to my parents that it wasn’t me, a hot-blooded Scot, who inflicted the bruise. He pounces on the chance with the same alacrity that’s brought him nearly 200 club goals in a brilliant career, taking him from the town of Mâcon, near Lyon, to the Basque Country, Spain’s capital and now Catalonia. He turns to the camera, flashes a charming French grin and gives a little “Hola!” wave. He’s enjoying this. Then he adds: “It wasn’t him – it was Giroud.”
Griezmann on learning a new philosophy at Barcelona.
Which is the truth. Immediately before our interview he’s enjoyed respite from this ongoing, testing apprenticeship at Barcelona by playing in his favoured position for France, in Albania, where he scored and assisted in the world champions’ 2-0 win. Nevertheless, he also took up his place in a wall to defend a free-kick and, when Giroud jumped to block the ball’s trajectory, the Chelsea striker levered himself higher thanks to outstretched elbows, accidentally catching Griezmann right under that left eye. C’est la vie, c’est la guerre.
But rather than a broken cheekbone, it’s been a handy ice-breaker. We’re both smiling; he knows this won’t be run of the mill. Interviewing men and women like Antoine Griezmann can be a testing business. Immense fun if it goes well, as this one does, but littered with traps. Are they in a good place? Not just that day, but in the given stage of their career. Are they tired, bored, in a bad mood, irritated by unfair media coverage, frustrated by lack of form? Will their energy levels allow them to properly engage with and enjoy the process of talking about subjects that will both entertain and inform their legions of fans?