FEATURE | Thuram? Giroud? Mbappé? France manager Didier Deschamps faces uncomfortable selection headache ahead of Euro 2024

Olivier Giroud will soon depart the stage. Candidates have auditioned to take his place in the France national team over the course of the past 18 months, yet all have failed to convince. Heading into Euro 2024, Didier Deschamps finds himself in an uncomfortable position, without a clearly defined hierarchy in the crucial No.9 position. 

In an interview with L’Équipe, Giroud announced what many had expected – he will hang up his boots at international level upon the conclusion of this summer’s Euros in Germany. Deschamps anticipated the decision. Despite coming off the back of a successful final campaign with AC Milan before he leaves Europe to join MLS side LAFC, Giroud is 37 and he is the first to admit that his time at the elite is coming to an end. 

‘It’s maybe time for me to stay stop to the very top level ‘ – Giroud

“I feel as though it’s the right time to make a family decision and also maybe say stop to the very top level but that doesn’t mean that I’ll arrive in the MLS as a tourist,” Giroud told Téléfoot at the weekend. Naturally, Deschamps has tried to transition away from Giroud since the FIFA World Cup final defeat against Argentina in December 2022. France’s all-time record goalscorer with 57 goals, Giroud won’t head to Germany as a tourist. He has announced a personal ambition to reach 60 goals for Les Bleus before hanging up his international boots. However, nor does he head to the tournament as the guaranteed starter, as he has in previous years. 

Deschamps has trialled multiple options. Thuram, who now plies his trade at Giroud’s cross-city rivals Internazionale, is the most obvious candidate, given his profile. However, he has yet to ever convince in a France shirt, netting just twice in 20 games. Beyond his meagre statistical return, there is also an unavoidable conclusion that he doesn’t bring as much in build-up either. 

His performances in the Euro 2024 warm-up matches against Luxembourg and Canada did little to help his case, even if he remains the favourite to start against Austria on Sunday. He has lacked that clinical edge that he has shown for Inter – the disparity in his performances for club and country is stark. 

Kolo Muani out of the picture?

Randal Kolo Muani approached the 2023/24 season as arguably the outstanding candidate to replace Giroud. An impressive debut campaign at Eintracht Frankfurt earned him a big-money move back to Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain. There, he had the chance to strike up the automatisms with Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé, the two outstanding and uncontestable candidates to start on the wings. 

However, far from acclimatising himself with his teammates at club and international level, Kolo Muani has regressed in what has been a debut season to forget at the Parc des Princes. Deschamps is his biggest defender in the public domain but the former FC Nantes forward, despite retaining the trust of the France manager, will not be thrown into the thick of it in Düsseldorf and nor should he.

Despite Deschamps’ best attempts to transition away from Giroud, the former Arsenal and Chelsea forward may still represent Les Bleus’ best option through the middle. His presence has often got the best out of Mbappé and their already-established connection is a strength that every country envies. 

Of course, the option of playing Mbappé through the middle mustn’t be discounted either. The captain moved into the No.9 role in the final moments of last week’s 3-0 victory over Luxembourg and in his short time in the position, he netted France’s third. There is no doubt that Mbappé is Les Bleus’  most clinical forward and Deschamps will want him in goal-scoring positions as much as possible. Playing him more centrally is the most obvious way to achieve this – granted, their is a nuance to this argument. 

Barcola – a credible option

That, however, poses the question of who plays on the wing. Could Deschamps possibly be tempted to align an all-PSG front-three? Bradley Barcola’s inclusion in the 25-man squad saw Deschamps break his own rule of not calling up previously uncapped players for a major tournament. However, the former Olympique Lyonnais winger’s progress in recent months could not be overlooked. 

It is one thing to bring Barcola to Germany, and another thing entirely to start him in the Euros opener. Yet it was his run, his ability to take players out of the game that allowed him to reach the edge of the Luxembourg box and square for Mbappé to tuck home. There is the caveat that “it is only Luxembourg”, however, at club level, Barcola and Mbappé have evidenced their ability to link up against much higher-level competition, notably in the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League. 

It would be a big call for Deschamps to start Barcola but the manager would be unwise to entirely discount him. Other candidates are falling by the wayside and within that context, Barcola is a credible option. To his displeasure, Deschamps will have a decision to make on Sunday evening; by this stage, he would prefer for his line-up to pick itself. But it hasn’t and with just six days until Les Bleus’ Euro 2024 opener, the race for the No.9 jersey is wide open. 

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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