A version of this story originally appeared on our sister site Slate.fr. The story has been translated and lightly edited.
At the moment, he’s the best goal scorer at Euro 2016. His six big moments—his liberating header against Albania, his two goals against Ireland, his chip against Iceland, and his brace against Germany—will be talked about for a long time. But above all, Antoine Griezmann has succeeded in meeting a rare challenge for a soccer player: He has inspired unity in the heart of the French public. The passion between the player and his fans is such that he’s become what’s known as “the internet’s boyfriend.”
At the beginning of the year, we explained this particular concept, wherein some segment of the internet decides to make a star into their chouchou, their beloved. In the past, actors like Oscar Isaac, Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch have successfully made it past the first date. This is the story of how the French striker, scarcely 25 years old, has joined this very exclusive club.
It must be said that even before the beginning of the competition, Grizou cut a sympathetic figure. Last March, a poll in French sports newspaper L’Equipe classified him as the second-favorite French soccer player after goalie Hugo Lloris.* The whole public sees him as a gifted player, and a nice guy.
Confirming his image as the “ideal son-in-law”
The articles published just before the Euros bolstered this good image. Le Monde called him the “ideal son-in-law” on the cover and did not exhaust its elegies in the subsequent pages. “He corresponds to the current hopes of the French public, which has had enough of the ‘star system.’ He has the image of a talented player, but simple, happy to play, who knows to put himself in the service of the team, who makes others play better but doesn’t expect them to play for him,” Vincent Chaudel, an expert in sports marketing, explained to the paper.
In effect, the smooth image that Griezmann circulates clashes with the flash of his teammate Karim Benzema, who’s still bogged down in a sex-tape blackmail scandal. His stature as a father and loving partner are given a prominent place in the Le Monde article, and have been, more generally, in the tabloids for months.
Snapchat filters, jokes on Vine, and memes on Twitter
After having cemented his status as the ideal son-in-law, husband, and father, the next step to becoming the internet’s boyfriend consists is making us laugh. For that, Griezmann took to nearly every form of social media.
Unlike French defender Patrice Evra, who posts a lot on Instagram but has only tweeted once, “Grizou” is hyperactive. These past few weeks, we’ve seen him publish content on Snapchat and Instagram, garnering millions of likes each time. With Snapchat filters and Vines, he doesn’t hesitate to make a joke at his own expense, even if the gags are a little annoying sometimes. It’s not an accident that he’s the French footballer with the most Twitter followers.
The apex of this self-deprecating humor came the day after the match against Iceland. Using the hashtag #FaisGlisserTonGrizi, numerous users hijacked the photo of the player where he’s shown sliding on his stomach in celebration. Though the tone was gently mocking, Griezmann decided to publish some of these collages on his account—and laugh at them. It was just like the enthusiasm produced by his celebration after scoring against Ireland—a dance inspired by the rapper Drake, himself the victim of memes. It was a strong move in the sense that few soccer players can take a joke and laugh at the ones they provoke.
Excellent player, super husband, good guy, we could stop there. But the internet promoted Griezmann to the rank of boyfriend thanks to one decisive factor: fantasy.
“Antoine deep-throats a banana”
It all begins with the butt. On the internet, among the thousands of exultant love letters for the striker (notably, after each of his goals), there are hundreds that don’t stop with a simple heart emoji. Using the hashtag #lesfessesdegriezmann, numerous tweets mention the butt, with photos attached, that has fed the fantasies of countless fans.
The sites Buzzfeed and Uproxx have written whole articles about it. But that’s not all. A quick search for “Fuck me Griezmann,” for example, is full of results, some of them quite funny. Some fearless people address themselves to the striker directly.
Of course, the title of The Internet’s Boyfriend could not be complete without a good dose of fan fiction, an experience to which all Internet celebrities are entitled. During the match against Iceland, the journalist Lucie Ronfaut found several of these on the site “Archive of Our Own,” where Griezmann’s name appeared a number of times.
In “A New Life,” user BlueGlitter tells the story of Antoine’s arrival at his club Atletico Madrid. After a timid beginning, the story takes a new turn when Grizi finds love in the arms of his teammate and roommate Koke, a Spanish midfielder.
Antoine deep-throated the banana until most of it disappeared in his mouth, than he pulled it from his mouth with a pop. He licked his lips again, savoring the sugary taste, then bit delicately on the end of the banana, chewed it, swallowed it softly and slowly opened his eyes to see Koke and his big open mouth.
On Quotev, @yourmasterpiece imagines a relationship between the Frenchman and Brazilian striker Neymar. More of the same on Wattpad, another popular fanfic site, where the player’s name appears in 273 stories—for comparison, French striker Karim Benzema is in 26, striker Olivier Giroud in 58, and the legendary Zinedine Zidane in 86. In “To the Stars …” a certain ManonGrizi tells the story of the passion between Giroud’s younger sister and Griezmann:
I couldn’t tell you how long that kiss lasted, because for me, kisses with Antoine made me forget everything around me. It made me forget the whole universe, because he was now my universe.
This story is 47 chapters long and has been viewed more than 104,000 times. In itself, to be a fanfic character isn’t unusual. What’s new here is that it’s a French footballer, not an American singer or a British actor, and he’s nourishing fantasies beyond our borders.
Antoine Griezmann has thus passed the test of internet boyfriend with flying colors, and this strange relationship, which is great for his image, will grow in intensity if Les Bleus win the Euro Cup.
Read more Slate coverage of Euro 2016.
*Correction, July 8, 2016: This post originally misspelled Hugo Lloris’ last name.