It’s been tough for the French people recently. Multiple terror attacks have led to fear and shock within the population, not knowing when and where the next atrocity may occur. Football however, is the beautiful game. Able to unite people behind one cause. It is able to bring hope and joy to distract from whatever hardship they may be going through.
I thoroughly believe that the incredible array of young talent that is currently shining out of the French national football team will be capable of lifting the spirits of a nation in crisis. In this article I will be highlighting some of the fantastic players in this squad that I believe is more than capable of dominating the international football scene for many years to come. The money, facilities, and intelligence of the youth academies such as Lyon, Le Havre, St Etienne, Marseille, Monaco and of course, filthy rich PSG alongside young immigrants and refugees from North Africa, can supply a huge pool of talent to select from.
Firstly, let me make it clear that I myself don’t see the point in trying to predict things in football. Surely the only evidence you need is Leicester City’s shock title win last season. One of the attractions to sport is its unpredictability, and football is no exception. Along with this, players may not develop how we expect. Young players may show the wrong attitude or suffer a bad injury that leaves their potential unfulfilled. Also, players may overachieve, if they show the correct attitude and are given sufficient opportunities they can exceed expectations. For every Freddy Adu there is a Marcus Rashford. For every Francis Jeffers there is a Harry Kane. For every Jack Wilshere, a Francis Coquelin. However, many football fans, myself included, find it fun to imagine what the future may hold.
Every revolution needs a leader. The current France boss Didier Deschamps reached the Euro 2016 final, but has faced much criticism from pundits and fans for his choice of strikers such as Giroud and Gignac, also his lack of tactical know-how and flexibility has led to many people not seeing him as the man to lead the next generation. Whoever ends up in charge of this young team will have to be able to lead and develop them. He must have international experience and tactical knowledge. Also, a key attribute of any international manager is the ability to work with what he’s got. You can’t simply buy players to suit your needs (This perhaps rules out Laurent Blanc). The choice of manager will also affect the formation and style of football that the team will play. The players profiled in this article have been arranged in a 4231 formation, but this is just how I would play, and I am not a professional football manager.
22 year old keeper Paul Nardi of AS Monaco, currently on loan at Stade Rennais was the first choice stopper for the French U21 squad (Now over age) and is showing glimpses of his potential to become a world class keeper. Also, Anthony Maisonnial of Saint Etienne is the first choice for the U18 squad and is tipped by scouts and media to exceed Nardi and become one of the world’s best. Loris and Mandanda have been France’s go to options for quite some time now, so opportunities for these two young talents must be supplied.
Djibril Sidibe is only 24, he can play on both sides of defence. He just moved to AS Monaco for a reported €12m. He possesses great pace and stamina as well as crossing ability. Used as a winger earlier in his career, he should be able to supplement the attack with great effect. Also, a similarly young and versatile player is the Grenada fullback Dimitri Foulquier. Only 23 and able to play both sides, he can be used as backup for both fullback roles.
On one side of my defensive pair is the young Athletic Bilbao player Aymeric Laporte (22). A fantastic player, defensive solidity, passing and vision. Alongside this he is a leader on the field. He has showcased these attributes at a young age at such a high level. No wonder a price tag of over £40m has been placed upon him. He has to be considered for the captaincy. Another great shout for this position is Barca’s new signing Samuel Umtiti (22). A solid and talented defender, comfortable with the ball at his feet, the former Lyon man has what it takes to be a staple in the Barça side for years to come. Similarly to Laporte, he is capable of making long, creative passes from the back line.
Laporte’s defensive partner seems to be an obvious choice, once again he is from La Liga. Raphael Varane (23) was nurtured into a spectacular young defender at Real Madrid by José Mourinho and has continued to make fantastic progress since then. Seen by many as Real’s captain for the next 10 years, Varane will surely play a huge part for his national team in that period. Not so much of a ball player, but he is more quick and agile than Laporte, so should be able to provide cover if his partner strays out of the defensive line. Another excellent choice for this position is Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma (21). Once again we can see an athletic and talented defender, capable of using his speed and agility to cover for his defensive partner’s creative instincts. New manager Antonio Conte will surely spot the potential and give him the guidance to become a top player.
Another recent Barça signing makes the cut here. Lucas Digne recently moved for €14m from PSG and at 23, is already a fantastic player. Set to play backup to Jordi Alba, his quality has already been proven. Backup to Digne will be provided by Foulquier. Also, Samuel Umtiti played left back in the Lyon youth ranks. One player who could potentially be pushing for a first team spot is 23 year old PSG left back Layvin Kurzawa. He possesses a greater attacking threat than Digne and can look to supplement the attack with his pace and creativity.
One side of this midfield pairing will have to sit deeper and shield the defence. Inter Milan’s Geoffrey Kondogbia can provide this support. Strong, athletic, quick and also possessing a good amount of technical ability he seems like the obvious choice. At only 23 he could become a familiar face in the side for years to come. Another choice for this position is the slightly older, but similarly inexperienced Chelsea midfielder Ngolo Kante (25). The Premier League champion is more quick and agile than Kondogbia and specialises in putting out fires in the midfield. This role will have to provide cover for its partner.
This player will get forward and support the attack as well as act as a defensive midfielder. He will need to be up and down the pitch all game. A box to box midfielder. There seems to be only one choice. The most expensive football player to ever set foot on this earth. Manchester United’s new number 6, Paul Pogba (23). A dominant midfield presence, athletic, skilled in both the attacking and defensive arts, Pogba is already a crucial cog in the French machine and will continue to be for years to come. He is obviously a strong and athletic midfielder, a typical Mourinho player, United will also be excited by the money they will make from the Frenchman’s image. Fancy haircuts, dancing, celebrity connections, Pogba is a trendsetter in the footballing world. Whatever boots, clothes or haircut he has, kids around the world and more importantly, around France will want to get. He can be an icon, a hero for the French people. Someone to embody the fighting spirit against the hardship that the country is going through. It is a difficult task to find backup for this role, as it is so demanding it requires a lot of stamina and work rate. PSG’s Adrien Rabiot has the technical ability to play the role, but lacks the work rate. However this may develop as he matures as a player, as he is only 21.
Attacking Midfielders X3
This system features three attacking midfielders, responsible for creating chances for themselves, each other and the striker ahead of them. The French squad is blessed with an exciting array of talent that can occupy any of these roles. All three of them can rotate with each other and all of them have that important attribute, pace.
Kingsley Coman (20) is an exciting young prospect at Bayern Munich. He will start primarily on the right, cutting inside from the wide areas. Coman possesses all the attributes necessary for this role. Skill, Pace, Power, dribbling ability. He has the ability to take people on and beat them. He was one of France’s most reliable assets at the European Championships last summer.
Starting in the centre of the three is one of the break out wonderkids of the last year. Ousmane Dembele is Dortmund’s recent signing, he shone in the Stade Rennais team last year, earning him a move to BVB. He possesses similar abilities to Coman. However he has been placed in the middle due to his more creative abilities. He is not just a pure winger. The main thing that Dembele needs to break into the French first team is experience. The fact that Dortmund have given him the number 7 shirt at just 18 years old suggests that it will be readily supplied.
On the left side we can see another breakout star of 2016. Man United’s Anthony Martial played just the one game at the Euros, but is already the first choice in this left sided position for his club at just 19. José Mourinho looks to have put a lot of faith in such a young player. This faith, alongside his performances last season in Louis Van Gaal’s struggling side, highlights his class. He often electrified dull matches last season, with his bursts of pace and ability to beat a fullback. Already a fan favourite at United, it seems that he could take up a similar position in the national set up.
Lyon forward Alexandre Lacazette continues to be linked to Arsenal almost every window. The 25 year old can play in any 3 of these positions and is a lethal force upfront. Over 80 goals in 200 games for Lyon since 2010. There are many other players who could play in any of these roles. Monaco’s Thomas Lemar, Lyon’s Maxwell Cornet and Nabil Fekir and PSG’s Augustin, Ongenda and Edouard. Another good shout is Real Madrid’s Enzo Zidane. (No prizes for guessing who the dad is!) Only time will tell if these players can challenge for a spot in this stacked attacking line up.
Talent, pace, creativity, skill and lethal finishing. Atletico Madrid’s 25 year old marksman Antoine Griezmann possesses all of these in abundance. And for a relatively inexperienced player, this is highly commendable. The top goalscorer in his first ever Euros, 6 goals and 2 assists in 7 games. He was named player of the tournament and also featured in the team of the tournament. Griezmann is similar to Pogba, in that he can be a hero for the French population. Obviously he is already popular amongst young people in the country. He was selected for the cover of FIFA 16 by public vote, and his ‘hotline bling’ celebration in homage to Canadian rapper Drake went viral almost immediately after its use in the Euros this summer.
There perhaps seems to be a sentimental feel with Griezmann being the man to lift the spirits of a nation in fear of terrorism. Not many people know this, but he has a personal link to these awful events. His sister Maude, who is currently studying to be his image rights manager, was a survivor of the siege of the Bataclan Theatre in the November 2015 Paris attacks. 89 people died in the theatre massacre alone, that same night, Griezmann was playing against Germany in the Stade de France.
Oliver Haines – @PlayedItBlind