FEATURE | Has Marcus Thuram squandered his chance to succeed Olivier Giroud as France’s No.9?

Euro 2024 was tailored for Marcus Thuram (26) to finally claim the coveted No.9 jersey for France. Olivier Giroud was on the way out. Les Bleus’ all-time record goal-scorer announced that he would be retiring from international football upon the conclusion of this summer’s tournament in Germany, and he himself confessed that his time at the elite was over, ahead of a move to the MLS.

Within this context, it is understandable that Giroud, previously untouchable, has lost his place. There is an element of planning for the future but also perhaps a reocngition too that the now-former AC Milan forward was incapable of providing the level of performance befitting of one of the favourites for Euro 2024.

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The list of potential replacements was far from innumerate. Over the course of the past two years, Thuram has seemingly been in competiton with Randal Kolo Muani, who truly burst onto the scene during the 2022 World Cup. The former FC Nantes forward consolidated that rise during the second half of his debut season at Eintracht Frankfurt and further staked his claim as Giroud’s successor.

His reported €100m move to Paris Saint-Germain changed that. His return to Ligue 1 has not gone as planned, he did not hit the ground running and quickly lost his place in the side, if he ever truly earned it in the first place. However, he has retained the trust of his managers, both at club and international level; the importance of this cannot be overlooked.

23 games, 2 goals – Thuram’s underwhelming France record

However, in the meantime, the pendulum swung firmly back in favour of Thuram, who enjoyed a strong debut campaign with Inter Milan (15 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions). That club form has not been replicated at international level; for Thuram, it never has.

This was Thuram’s chance: with Giroud almost out of the picture and Kolo Muani out of form, the Internazionale forward entered this summer’s Euros with an unfamiliar feeling of assurance – assurance that he would lead the line for Les Bleus. Not only is he yet to score in his competition, he is yet to contribute and with just two goals in 23 games for France, it is time to question whether Thuram is truly the heir-apparent to Giroud’s throne.

Scoring goals isn’t the only metric of success for a French No.9. Giroud may be the country’s all-time for top-scorer but he was arguably most crucial for France at the 2018 World Cup – a tournament that Les Bleus won without the former Arsenal, Chelsea and Montpellier HSC forward scoring a single goal.

In Russia, Giroud’s strength was in his link-up and making those around him, notably Kylian Mbappé, better. Therein lay his great strength. Thuram’s problem, and it is a problem, isn’t solely that he is averaging a goal less than every 11 games in a France shirt, it is also his absence in the build-up, his inability to enable those around him to display their best qualities.

Kolo Muani in, Thuram out?

To say that Mbappé, Ousmane Dembélé and – to an extent – Antoine Griezmann, have all underperformed because of Thuram would be unfair. They all have their part to play in Les Bleus’ under-performance in the attacking sector so far, as they become the first-ever country to advance to the quarter-finals of a Euros without having scored a single goal from open play (one penalty, two own goals).

However, what Giroud excelled at was making those around him better. Thuram has not shown that he possesses that quality, and his misses against Belgium in the Round of 16 evidenced his continued profligacy in a France shirt, as well as diminishing confidence.

L’Équipe understands that Thuram will be replaced by Kolo Muani against Portugal. The stars were aligned for the Inter Milan forward to make the No.9 jersey his own this summer but the chance has been squandered. It looks as though the search for Giroud’s successor will go on – and he isn’t an easy act to follow. Thuram found that out the hard way.

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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