Soccer-"Extraordinary" Griezmann silences his critics

Joseph Cassinelli

MADRID, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone hailed Antoine Griezmann on Wednesday after the Frenchman became the first player in six years to net four times in a match for the Spanish club.

“He’s a very talented boy and he makes the difference,” Simeone told reporters following Atletico’s 4-0 victory over Leganes which moved them to within four points of La Liga leaders Barcelona, who they face on Sunday.

“But the side have done some brilliant work to allow him to shine," Simeone added. "Look at the balls laid on to him by Diego Costa, Koke and Filipe Luis.

“His level is extraordinary, the assists were all fantastic and with his talent he was able to finish off some brilliant team moves.”

Earlier this season there were doubts surrounding Griezmann’s commitment to Atletico after he publicly toyed with the idea of leaving for Manchester United.

That coincided with a poor run of form as rumours surfaced that he had agreed to join Barcelona next season.

The unease resulted in frustration between fans and the player, culminating in the 26-year-old angrily making a shushing gesture in February’s victory over Valencia when he decided against launching a counter-attack in the dying seconds.

“I might have made mistakes, but not on what I’m doing on the pitch,” Griezmann said.

“I could have behaved better, I shushed the crowd but I was doing what I thought was right and that we should have control of the ball.

“I’m happy with my performance, but the three points are most important."

Griezmann, who also scored a hat-trick in his last league game on Sunday, was still guarded about his long-term future.

“We’re all enjoying ourselves now,” he said.

"We need to continue doing so and also bringing smiles to the fans faces. Hopefully, I’ll have this kind of affection until the end.” (Editing by Ed Osmond)