In La Liga you’ll see players from many different countries plying their trades; in fact you will see players from all different countries now playing in different leagues across the world. I used to scout the French players abroad for the fantastic French Football Weekly website and well it got me very interested in the French players in La Liga.
The two that jumped right out at me when I used to do this was Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann and Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane. Now I’ve always been excited by watching a player grow with each passing game, knowing that one day that player may make it into the full international senior squad. Now it’s no secret that one day, one day soon both Griezmann and Varane will follow this path and eventually be capped at senior level.
For the last four seasons young Griezmann, who was born in Mâcon, France, has been playing at Real Sociedad, he’s developed into their key man, if not their ‘key’ man then at least one of them. He’s, for a number of season’s now, tormented defenders on the wings, he’s chipped in with more than his fair share of assists and goals and well in the process of helping Real Sociedad in the league, and he’s also grown up over the years.
Within the last few years he’s enjoyed a role out on the wing for Real Sociedad, a position where his pace is a real threat and his trickier will get him past a defender or two, but it’s no secret that his ‘favourite’ position will always, and has always been, in the centre of the pitch, reading the game and knowing what’s going on behind and in front of him.
Well this season the young Frenchman has got his wish, after months of training him in that position Frenchman Philippe Montanier, the manager of Real Sociedad, has given the youngster a chance in the centre during some matches. So far he hasn’t really disappointed. This season he has already pitched in with one assist and one goal in the opening six matches, completes an average of nearly thirty-two passes a game and has a pass success rate of 87.3%. It’s not to say he won’t ever play on the wing again, as he has already played there this season. It’s just to show a little more faith in a quality player. It also shows he’s ready to take on more of a role at Real Sociedad and it’s one that the manager can only be happy with.
In the past with young Griezmann it’s not always been plain sailing, he’s had his moments with the media in which he’s said that he could go here or he could go there, but until this day he’s still at Real Sociedad. In the past he was wanted by Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola - “I’ve heard that Guardiola wanted me to play in the second team, with the objective that I acclimatize to Barca`s game, but that didn`t interest me.”
There was always rumours around that this English side or this Italian side or even that Spanish side were interested but at the moment he is at Real Sociedad and it’s a place he’s looking to stay for at least the near future - “I was clear from the beginning, the rumours do not affect me,” he said. ”I am very happy at Real. I have to extend my contract for another year because I love this club and the people there trust me.”
He’s spoke in the past about a potential call up and he’s went from relishing the challenge to now just focusing on the games ahead, a sign of maturity and growing up?
“A first call-up? I am working hard to make Didier Deschamps watch my performances. It is a target of mine to make the French squad this season. I am only 21 and I am not saying that I am at that level, but I will do everything to try to make it happen this year.”
“I do not think too much about it too much,” he added. “Currently I am focusing with the Under-21s. We have a match to play against Norway so I will continue to work and we will see in the future.”
In the future, Griezmann, in my opinion, will no doubt be in the French squad, he will continue at the present moment with the Under 21’s who have just qualified top of their group for the 2013 European Championships, but who knows maybe the 2014 World cup will be his stepping stone, if not then you can count on him being at the 2016 European Championship’s in France.
The other player who I mentioned at the start is Real Madrid’s Raphaël Varane; the six-foot three-inch central defender who was born in Lille, France, left Lens in 2011 to join footballing giants Real Madrid. He signed a six-year contact with Los Blancos and was bought for around €10 million.
Last season he featured in eighteen games for Madrid, either in the league, cup or Champions League. He was used sparingly but I’m not sure he can’t really grumble at the fact he’s behind Pepe and Sergio Ramos in the selection process.
In recent months, journalists have written about ‘the sadness of Varane’, well Jose Mourinho had this to say on the matter – When asked why he selected Varane ahead of Ramos in the game against Manchester City, ”I’ll tell you why I chosen Varane if you tell me why three days ago you wrote about ‘Varane’s sadness”, he then followed it up with, ”I don’t understand, you [journo’s] are astonished that Varane wasn’t playing at all before this match, you spoke of his sadness at that.”
Now as I said, Varane can’t be too dis-heartened to be behind two fantastic defenders, obviously he’ll want his chance and last year he was given a number of starts and a number of substitute appearances. Every time he was given his chance he showed Jose Mourinho what he could do, he gave the manager food for thought.
A little fact about the young French defender is every time he’s now started for Madrid they’ve never lost, in his thirteen starts, they’ve won twelve and drew just the one. So, as you can see he is a player that can hold his own. In the Champions League game this season where he was selected ahead of Sergio Ramos (a surprise to many) he done well enough. His stats for that match were, 41 touches, 91% pass success rate, and 75% of aerial duels won, 2 fouls, 1 successful tackle and 2 shots at goal, the same number of shots as Higuain that night.
So, he has shown he can do it at the top-level, he’s also showed that he can do it within the French set up, he, along with Griezmann, helped the Under 21’s side gain qualification for the 2013 European Championship’s this year.
So, after everything he’s done so far at Lens, Real Madrid and for France Under 21’s, the reward finally came, as in August this year Varane was called up to the senior squad for a friendly against Uruguay, the player had this to say - “I’m very pleased and it’s an honour and a privilege for me. “I owe this call up to Real Madrid for believing in me, to Mourinho, who I learn from every day, and to the excitement I have about playing each day”.
He didn’t feature in the game against Uruguay but I guess it just made his hunger and desire a little stronger, he also has this to say on the French national team - “Playing with France is the challenge of playing with one of the national teams with the greatest football histories. I’m going to do everything possible to add to the confidence that the federation and my manager have in me”
Now as I said at the start, I wouldn’t be surprised if these two in the near future were capped at senior level, I think it’s more a matter of when, not if.
Until then they will both carry on in a mature fashion and continue to compete for both their club and at Under 21 level for France, where they obviously have the European Championships to try to win next year in Israel.