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Atletico ahead of opponents with clever Antoine Griezmann capture

Reportedly rejected by Barcelona as a young boy and seemingly ignored by some of Europe’s top sides last summer, Antoine Griezmann is enjoying proving everyone wrong.

A match winning performance by the Atletico Madrid attacker last time out against Almeria, including a brilliantly taken brace, has put the Spanish capital club back in the La Liga title race (where they are 20/1 with Coral to win).

Now, a crunch Champions League clash with Bayer Leverkusen awaits, and guileful Griezmann is expected to be the driving force yet again, which must leave several top clubs scratching their heads as to why they did not swoop for the France forward themselves.

When asked recently if there were other sides interested in his services last summer, Griezmann stated: “That I don’t know, because I only spoke with Atleti.”

After shining in Spain for Real Sociedad over nine seasons, grabbing 16 league goals in 35 games in his last campaign, the Burgundy-born talent was tipped for the top.

Despite an impressive goal haul and bags of promise, a rumoured fee of £24m was all it took to prise the 11-capped France international from the clutches of the Basque club.

So it was surprising that Atletico Madrid seemed to be Griezmann’s only suitors. Other top adaptable attacking stars such as Angel Di Maria and Alexis Sanchez, meanwhile, cost Premier League clubs between £30-£60m that very same summer.

A quick look at the stats of those two talents compared to Griezmann’s impact at Atleti reveals that Diego Simeone’s star has arguably been better value, so big-spending clubs such as Arsenal and Manchester United may want to reconsider their recruitment criteria.

While big-names Sanchez and Di Maria initially hit the ground running before tailing off a little recently, Griezmann has taken time to grow into his new role under Simeone’s guidance, but now fits Atleti like a glove. His journey perhaps highlights the benefit of moulding and shaping players instead of using high-profile quick fixes.

The 23-year-old’s talent was never in doubt, but it took six La Liga outings for Griezmann to record an assist, and 10 to break his duck.

Now, however, Griezmann is in the midst of a purple patch and his highly impressive 17 goals across all competitions, including six in his past six games, compare favourably to expensive Sanchez’s 18, and costly Di Maria’s paltry four.

In fairness to Griezmann’s peers, the tricky attacker has been deployed regularly in a central role supporting fellow summer signing Mario Mandzukic, with responsibility to roam and provide goals as well as creativity.

“At the start, it was difficult because I had always played on the left, and here I am playing up front. But that does not worry me now. I am not worried about my position when I am out on the pitch,” stated Griezmann.

This new role, if anything, seems to have helped the exciting forward reach another level. While Griezmann was already a fine finisher from the left wing for Sociedad, the speedster is now excelling after being encouraged to drift and do damage as he sees fit.

“Now I’m comfortable in this role. The boss gives me freedom to attack and this is great for my confidence. Since Bilbao, when I scored three goals, I am full of confidence and can see that it was worth putting the work in,” the former Sociedad star added.

Simeone certainly likes his attackers to work hard and Griezmann has proven to be a selfless and tenacious teammate, as well as forming a promising and potent partnership with Mandzukic.

Should the latest talent to emerge from France’s ranks have been snapped up by a club with greater resources, his progress could easily have stalled.

Under Simeone’s wing, however, Griezmann’s future looks set to flourish. With Atletico outsiders at 18/1 to lift the Champions League, though, it may not be long before the Spain-based star seeks pastures new.

Covetous clubs should now expect to fork out an eye-watering fee, however, and may be left to rue overlooking Atleti’s excellent capture last time around.