Inspired by the NBA, Pogba and Griezmann deliver World Cup rings to France
CLAIREFONTAINE, France -- They had been waiting for so long, almost eight months since their day of glory in Moscow. They had been impatient, excited and curious, almost like children waiting for Christmas morning.
Since France's World Cup final victory vs. Croatia, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba have been going on and on about those rings. The best friends love American sports, especially the NBA, and since the beginning of les Bleus' World Cup adventure, had in their minds that if they won the tournament, they would make sure dreams of a diamond ring to celebrate became a reality.
Griezmann had done it after winning the Europa League with Atletico Madrid against Marseille earlier in 2018, but he only made one for himself. This time, he and Pogba wanted everyone involved.
On Tuesday evening, they finally made it happen and in some style. The rings arrived at the Clairefontaine training base, 45 minutes south of Paris, after the French federation agreed to pay for transportation from Los Angeles, where the rings were made by Jason of Beverly Hills.
Now it was down to Pogba and Griezmann to deliver the much-anticipated jewels, and they gathered their teammates in a meeting room to make the presentation. Well, 17 of them: Adil Rami, Corentin Tolisso, Lucas Hernandez, Benjamin Mendy, Steven Nzonzi and Ousmane Dembele were not present, given they have not been called into the latest squad by Didier Deschamps.
They will get their rings eventually and nevertheless were present in spirit, receiving photos and videos throughout the evening via the team's group chat, as the other players who took France to the top of the world during Russia 2018 received their gifts.
Intriguingly, none of the France staff were invited. Deschamps would only learn the following morning, on Wednesday, that the ceremony had even taken place. It was a moment that belonged to the players only.
In a short speech, Pogba referred to his teammates as brothers. "We are a family," he said many times as he prepared to thank them with a gift for winning a World Cup together.
"Their reaction has been good," Pogba said Wednesday. "It was a little something after winning the World Cup with some wonderful players. I consider them as my family. It is a little present from me. I don't want to brag but when I was at Juventus, we won the league and I left but I also got a little present to the players there. It was to thank them for the trophies because we never win alone.
"You can't win the World Cup by yourself. The players were there, behind me. They supported me. There were some critics but we were all together, united, like a family."
With a bit of help from Griezmann, Pogba paid for all 23 rings. The price was not disclosed but would have easily cost him several hundred thousand euros; one 2018 Golden State Warriors championship ring, also made by Jason of Beverly Hills, was valued at $13,500.
Griezmann had a word for the France squad as well. He does not like the small, unassuming trophy given to the World Cup winners. For him, the rings mean more.
There was a lot of emotion in the room during the presentation, as well as a lot of laughter and a lot of love for the rings. Not a single player was unhappy or disappointed by the shape, design or colours. Every ring came in a navy and red box featuring the player's name on a golden plaque at the front.
Each ring also has the player's name engraved on the side with the words "World Champions" and "Russia 2018." The jewels -- white diamonds, rubies and sapphires -- combine to represent the colours of the French flag, while the emblem is a map of France with a World Cup trophy in it.
Griezmann and Pogba chose the elements to be included on the rings and Jason of Beverly Hills did the rest.
"One of the main things they really wanted to make sure that the ring wasn't oversized like some of the NBA rings," said Jason Arasheben, the store's owner. "They wanted to make sure it was a bit more subtle, a little less ostentatious."
Arasheben noted that this was not the first soccer rings he has made: "Didier Drogba came to us after Chelsea won the Champions League [in 2012] and we did rings for them a lot as well. A lot of these Europeans tend to be fans of American sports, and the championship ring is an American tradition that they wanted to bring to their sport."
It was far from an easy project to complete. After asking for a design and manufacture in the same style as that made for the Warriors following their NBA titles, Pogba and Griezmann faced doubts about the idea from some of their teammates, which prompted Pogba to offer to pay for everything.
Then the French federation got involved and, in a gesture of goodwill, volunteered to oversee and cover the cost of transportation, which was approximately €10,000. Finally, it was not until the players were reunited that a ceremony could take place.
Initially, the federation was keen not to make too much out of the presentation because they did not want player security to be at risk. In the background, Deschamps was happy, though not because he was excluded from the party. Instead, he was content because he knows how important the ceremony would be for the unity and the chemistry of his squad.
From his perspective, the rings will bring those who were there in Russia and still form the strong core of the squad even closer. As for the ones who were not there, seeing the rings will make the likes of Kingsley Coman, Kurt Zouma, Moussa Sissoko hungrier for success so they can get their own hardware.
As Blaise Matuidi put it after receiving his ring, it was "an unforgettable present for an unforgettable memory."