Golden Generation. Génération d’Or.
A term that conjures images of abject, 4-4-2 failure for English football fans and scenes of World Cup jubilation for French supporters.
But a house, whether made out of gold, bricks or football players, is only as good as the foundation it’s built upon.
France’s foundations are rock solid. Les Bleus are going through a purple patch when it comes to producing centre-backs. Before we dive in, has anyone checked whether there’s an English grandmother knocking about?
A first-choice partnership of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti was good enough to win the World Cup, conceding six goals in the process.
As with all good defensive pairings, the duo compliment each other stylistically. Varane is preemptive while Umtiti is more reactive. You don’t tend to see Varane for an entire game, unless he’s playing badly, while Umtiti is more obviously dominant, although sometimes rash.
Both have suffered something of a dip after the World Cup- due to injury and loss of form- but they still remain one of the best defensive double acts in world football, to the extent that some are calling for Varane to be awarded the Ballon d’Or.
They’ll need to maintain those standards if they want to remain in the side, such is the strength in depth Didier Deschamps can currently call upon.
How Aymeric Laporte remains uncapped is one of football’s great mysteries. The Man City defender has represented France from the Under-17s all the way through to the Under-21s but is yet to get the nod at senior level.
The 24-year-old has been in past squads but the longer Deschamps leaves him in the shadows the louder the call of Spain, for whom Laporte is eligible to represent, will grow.
Presnel Kimpembe hasn’t had the same difficulties breaking into the France squad, despite often facing a fierce battle just to get in PSG’s star-studded side.
The 23-year-old, who has four caps to his name, has benefited from Marquinhos’ transformation into a no.6 under Thomas Tuchel and is now Thiago Silva’s main partner in crime.
Four down, plenty more to go.
A scouting trip to Westfalenstadion would do Deschamps no harm given Borussia Dortmund’s squad contains two French defensive exports.
PSG will be kicking themselves after allowing Dan-Axel Zagadou to leave on a free transfer, especially after the 19-year-old bullied Diego Costa during Dortmund’s 4-0 Champions League win against Atletico Madrid.
Summer arrival Abdou Diallo is looking increasingly settled following spells at Monaco and Mainz, aside from a red card against Hoffenheim.
Deschamps can also use his Bundesliga scouting trip to check out RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano, who was shortlisted for the European Golden Boy award in July, and Stuttgart’s Benjamin Pavard.
Pavard was a crucial member of Deschamps’ World Cup XI at right-back but has spent much of his Stuttgart career playing in the middle of defence.
Any excuse to show that goal again…
Last, and probably least, is the Premier League’s French representatives.
Mamadou Sakho and Kurt Zouma were both included in Deschamps’ last squad, which might come as something of a surprise to Crystal Palace and Everton fans.
Then there’s Issa Diop, whose performance against Man United had Jose Mourinho tapping up West Ham’s entire scouting department.
Mourinho would do well to send a scout over to Nice to check out 19-year-old Malang Sarr if he wants to avoid missing out on another Ligue 1 gem.
The future of France’s defence is in rude health. A worrying prospect, given the presence of Kylian Mbappe in attack.
Hugo Lloris’ sheets should be clean for the foreseeable future.
So long as he doesn’t overdo it on the Merlot.
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