Exclusive | Frank Leboeuf: ‘For the sake of football, I want the Euro 2024 final to be Spain v the Netherlands.’

Ahead of France’s Euro 2024 semi-final against Spain, former Les Bleus international and 1998 World Champion Frank Leboeuf (50 caps) sat down with Get French Football News, to look at Euros semi-finalists France and England and to pass on his expertise on penalty-taking.

What do you think of France’s Euro journey so far? Through to the semis but it’s been a grind. As a defender, you must be pleased with that side of it at least?

I’m definitely reassured on the defensive side – I had my doubts about Upamecano and Kounde for example, who hadn’t had amazing seasons – but defensively we’re solid, and we’re working well together. But it’s a collective job – it’s not just the four defenders and the goalkeeper – it goes through the midfield and even the attack a little bit. It reminds me a bit of the France team that played in England in [Euro] 96, where we often won on penalties [Ed: once, in the quarter-final against the Netherlands] and were also knocked out on penalties in the semi-final. But, like everyone, I’m disappointed with what’s happening up front. But then I remember that in 2002 we played the World Cup with Djibril Cisse, Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet – all three the top scorers in their leagues in France, in England and in Italy – and we didn’t score one goal. So it’s not the first time that it has happened. It’s up to them to find the alchemy for it to work – they’re talented players, no doubt about that.

But if we look at the individuals – I think there is a real Kylian Mbappe problem. If you are injured and you can’t play at 100%, you can only play at 50%, then you shouldn’t play. For me, you’re not serving France well and you’re not serving yourself well, because you’re criticised, you can’t play to your best level. I can’t see the use in playing Mbappe at 50% – I think that Bradley Barcola would do better.

Then Ousmane Dembele – I call him “What A Shame!” – as in ooooOOOOOHaaah, what a shame!” [Laughs] It drives me mad! He’s like (Leroy) Sane for Germany – there are players like that – who excite you when they get the ball … and then nothing.

Leboeuf reveals he wants neither France, nor England in Euros final

And Antoine Griezmann, I think that he’s tired. I think the season that he had at Atletico – which was extraordinary – wore him out. Maybe Didier needs to think about changing players, maybe Giroud could be an option. I know that against Spain we’ll play on the counter-attack so maybe Giroud isn’t the right player for that. But there are maybe things to try – there is Coman too. But there are quality players, players who are very quick. Spain will attack so maybe there will be space for France behind their defensive line. But you have to pick the right players. And I think there are some players with question marks over them in terms of their physical state, their injuries or their fatigue – but there is a squad, and I’m here as proof that the replacements can do a job too [Leboeuf replaced the suspended Laurent Blanc in the 1998 World Cup final], so you have to use them.

Against Portugal, we were playing down the wings but weren’t putting in many crosses. If you’re going to play like that you need to put crosses in – but then you need a presence in the area. Someone like Giroud, whom we know can score goals for France?

Normally Thuram is good in the air and has scored lots of goals for Inter. But I think that we need to make a choice – we have a good feeling with Giroud, it works well, he has scored lots of goals for France, he has proven that he is consistent and capable and can do a job – and if you’ve picked him it’s because you think he can help – he’s not there just to party and to laugh in the showers! He is there to serve. So if you see that you have an issue with Thuram and that you’re not scoring any goals, maybe you need to try the Giroud option. We’ll see.

But despite their issues, France and England are now in the semi-finals…

Yes, that’s true but I think that’s why everyone wants deep down of course I support France – but for the sake of football, I want the final to be Spain vs the Netherlands.

Spain and Germany proved that it’s possible to play another way, and the Netherlands changed their style after the group stage – it’s a different team now – OK they suffered in their last match, but they played football. And it’s interesting to see that some countries are able to play offensively. Yes, you need a defensive structure, I’ve no issue with that and Didier Deschamps is the perfect example of that way of thinking.

The difference between club and international football is that there has always been the challenge to find the alchemy with players who come into the international team but don’t have time to work together. That’s the job of the international manager – to work out who is capable of playing with whom. That’s the job of the manager – and I’m sorry but Gareth Southgate – he doesn’t know how. He is incapable of changing his team, he doesn’t know how to find that alchemy. And it’s his job. He doesn’t have those players every day, but his role is to say can I take that player, that player, can they play together?

In 1996 Aime Jacquet didn’t pick either Eric Cantona or David Ginola. You’ll need to ask him why, there must have been a reason as they were the two best players in England – immense. But they weren’t in the France squad and they weren’t picked in 1998 and we became World champions. They were the best French players, but Aime Jacquet perhaps worked out that it wouldn’t work. That’s the challenge of the international manager. Taking the best current players, the ones who cost the most money is easy. I could also be England coach and say I’ll take Saka, Foden, Jude Bellingham, Kane. You can do it, I can do it if that’s all it takes. But to say, listen Foden, Jude Bellingham plays like this so I can’t play you as it won’t work out, so I’m going to play Anthony Gordon on the left because that will work with Bellingham – that’s the international coach’s job – it’s not just to take the biggest names.

OK, England are in the semis, if they win the Euros everyone will be happy because England has won nothing since 1966, it’s great for England – OK. But god it’s boring! We’re so bored! The same with France. And yet we keep Deschamps because we win.

I don’t know if the criticism of France and Deschamps has been a little harsh – they are trying to play offensively but it’s just that everyone is off form?

Deschamps has 50% of the responsibility as coach, and the players have 50% of the responsibility. When Dembélé shoots over the bar it’s not Deschamps’ fault – he’s picked a player who is capable of scoring goals, yet every shot he has goes over the bar! The same for Mbappe – he can’t run because he’s constantly adjusting his mask. But then there are decisions that have to be taken. They might hurt some players but it’s France! It’s England! You have to find the alchemy so that they can all play together. And when you see England with Saka, Foden, Bellingham – of course, you want to see them all play together but, if it doesn’t work, then you can’t play them all together. And it’s the same with Mbappe, Griezmann, Dembélé. If it doesn’t work, then don’t play them all.

You were a penalty taker. I remember the one you scored, under pressure against Andorra. France finally won a penalty shoot-out against Portugal. Some talk of it being a lottery, but Mbappe says it’s all about the technique. What are your thoughts on how to approach a penalty?

I thought that both France and England were superb with their penalties at the weekend. No complaints – they were all well taken. And when people were speaking about the brilliance of the Portuguese keeper, or of Ronaldo’s missed penalty [against Slovenia], it’s just because they were badly taken. It’s when you hit the ball halfway up the goal in what I call “the gloves area”. When the keeper dives, the first thing he does is to stick his hand out, so if you’ve hit it at that halfway height, then he has a chance. But if you have hit it low or high, it’s impossible for him. The worst thing you can do is hit it at that halfway height. It’s what Ronaldo did, it’s what the three Slovenian players did – there it’s a question of technique. When Mbappe missed his penalty against Switzerland in the last Euro, it was also at that height. If the keeper saves it and it’s been hit low or high – high is the hardest to save – then I have no issue saying that the keeper has pulled off something special. But here, all those that were missed were badly taken. It’s a question of technique – the penalty taker has all the advantages, especially now that the keeper can’t move forward, needs to keep one foot on the line. If you hit it hard and low towards the side-netting, then no one can save it – it’s impossible. So you just have to not take a rotten penalty!

Lebeouf was speaking to Get French Football News in association with BoyleSports, who offer the latest Euro 2024 Betting.

GFFN | Jeremy Smith

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