As a new chapter begins for France and Kylian Mbappe, that familiar feeling of off-field turmoil reared its ugly neck.
Reports have emerged in the French media that the more experienced and senior Antoine Griezmann has felt put out by Didier Deschamps’ decision to name 24-year-old Mbappe as Hugo Lloris’ successor as Les Bleus captain.
“Given his longevity, I expected Griezmann to be named. It surprised me, he’s Didier’s key man, the one he counts on the most” former France international Robert Pires told Mundo Deportivo.
“It’s a lack of respect for Antoine, although, I have nothing against Kylian. We must not forget what Antoine did in the last World Cup, where he was our best player.
“It would have been smarter to name Griezmann captain now and give Kylian the armband in two years.”
The captaincy row dominated the conversation in France, with Emmanuel Petit backing Deschamps’ decision and firing shots in Griezmann’s direction.
Meanwhile, the ever-reliable Raphael Varane has announced his retirement from international football at the age of 29.
Last seen in the colours of Les Bleus hobbling off the pitch after literally giving it all he had in the World Cup final, the Manchester United centre-back has offered a healthy dose of perspective about the toll juggling elite club football and international football takes only players’ bodies.
“The calendar is already more than full, the players are overworked and it will get even worse,” Varane the French GQ magazine.
“I’m afraid that we will witness much shorter careers and that players will have to give up the France team very early because, physically or mentally, what we are asking for today is simply beyond limits. The fact that I announced the end of my international career and not having hidden the reasons, that resonated with many players.
“Believe me, all the international players who play in Europe and never stop go through periods of poor form lasting several months, or they get injured. The young players who start in the France team there, those who have played in the World Cup, are going to have to make a lot of sacrifices if they want to stay on top for ten years. And it might be harder than what I’ve experienced.”
Gulp. Good luck, Kylian.
At just 24 years old, he has 67 appearances for France under his belt. Three major tournaments. Over 300 games for Monaco and PSG.
To witness the ascent of Mbappe has been like watching former Ballon d’Or winners Ronaldo Fenomeno or Michael Owen if they’d never suffered such debilitating injuries. Their tales are cautionary ones of exactly what can happen if bodies are pushed beyond their limits.
Every true lover of football will touch wood praying that Mbappe – so electric, so joyful – doesn’t suffer the same fate.
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So far, so good, though.
“I spoke to Antoine because he was disappointed and frankly it is understandable,” Mbappe said.
“I told him that I might have reacted in the same way. What I told him was that as long as I am captain and he is vice captain, I won’t be superior to him.
“He has an experience of playing for France that I don’t have. He is held in high esteem and is liked by the whole squad so it would be a shame for us not benefit from his experience, and his zest for life as well.”
Having demonstrated the diplomacy needed to be captain of one of the more famously volatile international dressing rooms, Mbappe then let his football do the talking.
He needed just two minutes to usher in France’s new dawn with the most symbolic of assists for Griezmann.
El gol de Griezmann👌 pic.twitter.com/dNrtVNGHTZ
— 🅒🅞🅛🅒🅗🅞🅝🅔🅡🅞 (@cuorerojiblanco) March 24, 2023
Having been perfectly within his rights to have a shot on goal himself, Mbappe noticed Griezmann darting into the box and squared it instead. Bang, goal – what was all that noise about?
From there, Mbappe put the Netherlands to the sword, scoring twice in France’s first qualifier for Euro 2024.
With their new skipper given the platform to be at his brilliant best, it was a perfect evening for France.
They completed a 4-0 rout of their neighbours in some style at the Stade de France with Mbappe notching a brilliant solo effort in the dying minutes.
Mbappe is whoever he thinks he is. pic.twitter.com/a6QmKUGVi2
— Mhengaa™ (@jadememer) March 24, 2023
The effort saw the forward overtake Karim Benzema to move fifth in France’s all-time goalscoring charts. When Olivier Giroud surpassed Thierry Henry to become France’s all-time top goalscorer in December, the milestone came with a sense the 36-year-old is simply keeping the seat warm.
Mbappe has scored 38 goals for his country. When Lionel Messi turned 24 back in 2011, he had just 17 for Argentina. Cristiano Ronaldo, the all-time top goalscorer in the history of international football, had scored 21 goals for Portugal at that age.
Ronaldo is also the all-time top scorer in the history of the European Cup. But when he was the age Mbappe is now, he’d scored just 11 goals in the Champions League. France’s new captain, already PSG’s all-time top goalscorer, is up to 40 goals in Europe’s most prestigious cup competition already.
Mbappe has already lifted the World Cup. He’s scored a hat-trick in another final, narrowly lost on penalties, in which he also scored in the shootout. There’s every chance he plays in another three tournaments and needs just five more goals to surpass Miroslav Klose’s record on the biggest stage of all.
The cold hard numbers, there in black and white, are one way of judging Mbappe’s trajectory to one day being considered in the GOAT debate.
Another is just to watch him and enjoy him. Watch him terrify defenders by charging at them with the ball at his feet. Then try tell us Mbappe won’t one day be considered of the all-time greats.