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Transfer Rater: Malcom to Arsenal, Mata to Juve

Football Whispers
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Griezmann shows he is among the best, regardless of Ribery's comments

Diego Simeone says that Antoine Griezmann is one of the best three footballers on the planet and "without doubt", "absolutely" the best player in the world last season, but it wasn't enough. He led his club to a European final and his country to a European Championship final, but that wasn't enough, either. Not enough to win a title, anyway. And certainly not enough for Franck Ribery, who this week claimed that the Atletico Madrid forward is "not world-class." Whatever that actually means.

After all, "world" is a pretty big class, with 7.4 billion of us in it. Or maybe it means every footballer good enough to play at the World Cup, which handily reduces it to 736. Or maybe you have to be voted for in a world player of the year award. If so, that would mean 23 players as per last season (none of whom were Ribery, by the way).

According to Ribery, Griezmann "did well" last year but to be "world-class" you have to "maintain that level consistently." Ribery complained that people start asking for the Balon d'Or -- a trophy handed out every year on that basis of that year -- after a season. Instead, he says, footballers should have to keep that level up for 10 or 15 years. He doesn't demand trophies explicitly, which would be fairly conclusive evidence against Griezmann, just performances and time. "Then," Ribery says, "I'll tip my hat to them and join in the congratulations."

That, Ribery told Bild, is world-class. Ten years or more? By that criteria, Lionel Messi shouldn't have been considered at all until, what, 18 months ago? And Cristiano Ronaldo's first Balon d'Or was at least five years premature? That might sound ridiculous but it is pretty much what Ribery, who is 33 and has been at the "top level" for that length of time, is suggesting.

It might be fair enough to demand some consistency over time -- form is temporary, class is permanent and all that -- and Ribery makes a worthwhile point, except that the Balon d'Or is an annual award and 10 years is some ask, especially for a player, like Griezmann, who is 25.

Besides which, all of this misses the bigger point. That is the emergence and celebration of a truly special player in Spanish football, a genuine star in an unusual place: not Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Griezmann has scored six goals in eight games this season, having netted 32 last season and 25 in 2014-15. The year before that, he scored 16 in the league alone. As a winger. For Real Sociedad. Oh, and the season before that, he scored 10 and was the outstanding player as La Real reached a Champions League place for the first time in a decade. Since he left, they have spent more time worrying about relegation than chasing success. That sounds pretty consistent, doesn't it?

Ribery has said previously that Bayern Munich is "another level" and indeed it is. But that surely makes Griezmann's achievement more impressive. Scoring 22 league goals at Atletico is not the same as 22 at Barcelona or Madrid; nor is leading them to a Champions League final. Isn't there more merit to scoring against Barcelona, Madrid and Bayern than scoring for them?

Antoine Griezmann has scored 63 goals in 115 games for Atletico Madrid in all competitions.

When Simeone made Griezmann a striker, some said he couldn't play there but the Atletico coach had seen the daring, intelligence and quality that he had shown in San Sebastian. The personality, too. Fifty league goals have followed and Griezmann has scored all sorts of them: Dinks and curlers and screamers, inside the area and out. Did you ever see someone, who is 5-feet-9-inches, so good in the air?

And it's not just the goals: It's the movement, the acceleration, the dribbling, the passing, the touch and technique at speed. And the defensive responsibility: you lost count of the clearances and interceptions made by Griezmann last season when Atletico came under pressure against Bayern and Barcelona. Plus, there's his ambition: Even when he was wrong, complaining after the Leganes draw in week two of this season that, if Atletico carried on like that they would be fighting off relegation, he was sort of right.

Why? Because his words were a turning point, a call to arms and ambition. Since then, Atletico have won four out of five league games -- the other match was a draw at Barcelona -- and taken a step forward, becoming more attacking and more aggressive.

It was a similar story during the European Championship when, once Griezmann stepped up to take responsibility, France improved. He may be quiet, but he leads. When he talks, people listen. France coach Didier Deschamps listened and the host nation reached the final. With six goals, Griezmann was the competition's top scorer and was voted its best player. It was a choice that -- for once -- few could truly question.

As Atletico have become more expansive, his game has changed. There's been a kind of "Messification" this season for Griezmann, who now plays all over the pitch. From the winger that became a second striker and then a first striker, he has been the No. 9, the No. 7, the No. 10 and the No. 11, sometimes all in the same game.

Even Simeone, strictness personified, admits that Griezmann finds solutions that weren't part of the plan and grants freedom because he knows it works: "He interprets space superbly, knowing where and when to move," says Atletico's coach.

None of which is enough for Ribery but, more importantly, it's not enough for Griezmann either.

"He's right," he said. "But I know I am on the right path: I still have 10 years ahead of me. Everyone has an opinion: My dad thinks I am the best player in the world and so do Atletico fans."

Sid Lowe is a Spain-based columnist and journalist who writes for ESPN FC, the Guardian, FourFourTwo and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter at @sidlowe.

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