In La Liga on Saturday afternoon, Real Madrid battered Real Sociedad 5-1 to make it 17 goals scored in their last 4 games in all competitions. No surprises here; Cristiano Ronaldo hit a hat-trick to make it 52 goals in 2013 for the Portuguese while the difference in summer expenditure between the two clubs, £143 million against £2.6 million, was exposed as a gaping chasm.
Best epitomising the financial difference between the two was Asier Illarramendi, who switched from the Anoeta to the Bernabeu in the summer for £26 million. Now in the white of Madrid, he was given the final 20 minutes against his old club, by which time the game was over.
From the bench he would have watched his old side toil in his absence, attempting to move on from his summer departure in the midst of a transition that has not been exactly smooth. The manager who led La Real back to the Champions League after an eleven year exile, Phillipe Montannier, left for Rennes, leaving his assistant Jagoba Arrasate, a managerial rookie, to take the reigns.
The result has been a patchy start to the season in which the Basque club have won just 4 of their opening 13 games. They sit 8th in the table, 6 points off the 4th spot they finished in last season, evidently missing the wonderful midfield talent that went out of the door with Illarramendi.
The 23 year old Spanish midfielder would have been reacquainted briefly with many of his old friends as he left the field on Saturday, shaking hands with the likes of Inigo Martinez, Antoine Griezmann, Xabi Preito and the rest of those with whom he had shared the experience of climbing from the Segunda Division when the club was bankrupt just four years ago.
Out of Sociedad’s starting line-up on Saturday, only Haris Sferovic and Carlos Vela weren’t amongst that fairytale re-emergence, one that has been built on a solid, fertile youth system based in the same region as the one in which Athletic Bilbao have experienced so much success. From their academy, Illarramendi was created and sold on at a vast profit, the next on the belt is likely to be the scorer of Sociedad’s consolation in Madrid, the 22 year old Griezmann.
It was in the Segunda where the French youth international made his breakthrough with La Real, immediately being made a regular, clocking 39 league appearances as his side earned promotion to La Liga.
His 2009/2010 season culminated with success in the under-19 European Championship with France and it was clear that Sociedad, in a player who had honed his skills in a small commune in the east of France as a youngster, had unearthed a gem. His burgeoning talent led the San Sebastian club to offer him a gigantic first professional deal in the summer of 2010, giving him a five year deal together which included a 30 million Euro release clause.
Griezmann established himself in then manager Martin Lasarte’s side as a versatile left-winger who was also adept at playing as a centre-forward or on the right. The 4-2-3-1 system became imprinted on La Real as Lasarte passed the reigns on to Montannier and Greizmann’s ability was central to it, scoring a total of 16 goals during his first two seasons at the top level and gliding between attacking positions with effortless movement and nimble footwork, owing to a lightweight sub-6ft frame that put many scouts off his talent when they watched him as an amateur.
Starting on the left-side and given license as Sociedad’s flair, creative force to roam in-field, last season was Griezmann’s most productive, hitting eleven goals and assisting four as La Real made the Champions League, the competition he steered them towards with a wonderful goal against his boyhood club Lyon in the qualifying rounds. His majestic form earned him an extra year on his contract which wasn’t able to deter interest from the likes of AC Milan and Arsenal.
“Really, they are all rumours and I am fine,” he reacted.“I’m happy and comfortable. I have a contract until 2016 and will not think about anything else. I am enjoying it here. I do not see myself anywhere other than Real.”
It was a window into the loyal, committed character that sees him rarely injured and an ever-present in the Sociedad cause. After the summer unrest that could have easily caused him to hanker for a move away from a club who are still tightly financially restricted despite their Champions League exploits, Griezmann knuckled down and, after experiencing a slow start to the season, has hit 8 goals in his last 10 games and 7 in his last 5 in La Liga.
“I am enjoying myself and must give thanks to my teammates, as without them I would not have achieved this,” said Griezmann. “Last year I scored ten goals and I always say I am working to improve my statistics, but the most important thing is that the team continues along this good line. We are all leaders, every one of us.”
While a lucrative move away from the Basque country inevitably awaits in the non-too distant future, perhaps to Manchester United, there is no doubting where the French youngster’s immediate commitments lie.
His consolation strike against Madrid, a cool lob over Diego Lopez after a mistake from Pepe, showed his own class in a match dominated by Ronaldo who reiterated his position as La Liga’s top left-winger. Griezmann, still producing the goods for Sociedad, isn’t too far behind.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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