The days of Patrice Evra occupying the starting left-back spot for French national team are, without a doubt, slowly coming to an end. The nation has, up until now, been resting their hopes on 21-year-old Lucas Digne to fill the boots of the former Manchester United left-back. However, recent stuttering performances from Digne for Les Bleus have made us question whether or not he is truly the right man to take that mantle for the foreseeable future. Are there any other youngsters waiting to shine or would it be better to use a short-term option as he continues to develop?
Lucas Digne first burst on to the scene three years ago at Lille, playing 16 first team games for a side that had won the Ligue 1 title just one season previously and were embarking upon a new phase of development following the departure of some key individuals (Hazard, Gervinho and Cabaye). He was quickly applauded for his maturity and defensive solidity, as well as for the inventiveness he showed when bombing forward.
His inspired form over the course of the 2012-13 campaign caught the attention of Paris Saint-Germain, and Digne joined for a fee believed to be around €15 million but was forced to accept limited game time in 2013-2014, with the imperial Maxwell proving to be the collectively better left-back. The young Dogue showed glimpses of brilliance, with one or two highly impressive matches, but was, for the first time in his professional career, truly inconsistent from game to game. This seems to have followed him in recent performances for Les Bleus. Post-World Cup, there has been a big push by the French media for Lucas Digne to become PSG’s starting left-back for the forthcoming campaign. This now looks likely, although be weary to regard the fact that Digne has started three of the first four games of the season for Les Parisiens as an indication of this, with his competitor Maxwell a little behind in terms of sharpness and fitness, following an extended break after Brazil’s late exit from this summer’s premier tournament.
As for his recent career in the national team, Digne has only been involved in the squad since the start of the calendar year and has made five appearances, yet he’s still seen as the eventual successor to Evra in the side. He replaced the Juventus man late on against Spain which didn’t give him enough time to make any kind of impact, but he did start against Serbia where he largely disappointed. He made a silly error in back-heeling a ball right into an attacker which almost led to a goal. Worse still, his performance against Ecuador in the World Cup showed a total lack of ability to make intelligent crosses and runs forward, something very uncharacteristic of Lucas Digne’s game.
France are widely expected to challenge right until the end of their hosted Euro 2016 tournament in two years time, which begs the question, why stand for anything other than consistent brilliance in the national team? It simply no longer acceptable to claim that France lacks alternatives to both Lucas Digne and Patrice Evra for that left-back position. While Gael Clichy and Benoit Tremoulinas remain an extremely competent options, youngsters such as Timothee Kolodziejczak and Jordan Amavi who have been seriously impressive at youth levels will now be earning regular game time for their respective clubs in OGC Nice and Sevilla.
Having said that, his main competitor looks to be Monaco’s Layvin Kurzawa, AS Monaco’s incredibly practiced left-back with a strangely delightful penchant for scoring goals. He is already about a year older than Digne but unequivocally Monaco’s number one left-back when fit and contributed more assists in the league last season than Digne has offered in his entire career in the French top division. He also scored five goals, a much larger contribution than Digne’s two goals whilst at Lille and he’s shown that he is ready for the big step-up in competition.
He is just as attacking as Digne but certainly more polished. A force aerially, Kurzawa matches the 21-year-old in almost every other area. What should be more alarming for Digne is that now Kurzawa is a part of the under-21 side and is putting in some fantastic performances that must be catching Didier Deschamps’ eye. Against Kazakhstan during the international break, Kurzawa scored twice and put in a great shift that must give the French set-up food for thought as Evra continues to wind down.
This is a big year for Lucas Digne both for club and country as he looks set to finally receive regular first-team football at PSG, now he must deliver. We are not sure that he actually deserves the recent effusive praise placed upon his shoulders and perhaps Deschamps so introduce another rival to provoke a response from a youngster who is being constantly told how promising he is. Complacency is not a quality that France is searching for as it looks to win its first major tournament since 2000.
C.N. and N.S.