Kylian Mbappé is capable of tearing Ireland apart even if France are divided

Didier Deschamps’ decision to overlook Antoine Griezmann for the captaincy may have complicated France’s preparations for their trip to Dublin

From an Irish perspective, French preparations for Monday night in Dublin are going better than anyone could have hoped.

Or so it seems.

Internal squabbles over the captaincy? Check. Opening night of their Euros qualification campaign overshadowed by Didier Deschamps allowing an argument to fester about the value of Kylian Mbappé over Antoine Griezmann? Check. The Dutch spray-painting Paris orange? Check.

Capitaine of Les Bleus is an enormous honour, as Le Figaro explained, and the French media made a racket about Mbappé (24) – the World Cup final hat-trick hero – being chosen over Griezmann (32) to replace Hugo Lloris in the armband.


The debate appears to have dug into an undercurrent of wildly contrasting French psyches. There was a curiously worded poll in the newspaper: “Do you approve of Deschamps’ choice of Mbappé as captain?” 56.7 per cent said yes. Enough to brand it a schism.

Le Figaro and L’Équipe ran hard with suggestions that Griezmann felt snubbed by Deschamps’ decision, as the Atlético Madrid legend reportedly contemplated his international future.

“What kind of captain will Kylian Mbappé be?” began an editorial. “A unifier of disparate views like Deschamps? Zidane’s silently magnificent way? The normal-calm Hugo Lloris or the decisive charisma of Michel Platini?

“Kylian Mbappé is spoiled for choice but he will want to put his mark on the history of this French team. Decisive on the field, able to change the course of a match with a moment of inspiration, he begins with the entire squad already committed to his cause. No one doubts him. He is programmed for this. A mutant.”

Having built him up, Le Figaro questions his ability to “keep the French edifice afloat in times of trouble” before stressing the need to “erase” his “lack of appetite to defend”.

Zizou never had to defend, nor Platini.

It went on, questioning the pressure his “image rights” put on the French Football Federation and how he defended Zidane when the disgraced and recently removed FFF president Noël Le Graët crudely dismissed the idea of the three-time Champions League winning Real Madrid manager replacing Deschamps.

If France do implode in 2023, it might be down to a four-year extension Le Graët negotiated with Deschamps’ agent Jean-Pierre Bernès. The 1998 World Cup-winning captain has guided Les Bleus to three major tournament finals, winning at Russia 2018, but the new deal stretches his tenure to 14 years.

Two more qualification cycles seemed unnecessarily generous, especially now that the 81-year-old Le Graët has shuffled into the Fifa offices in Paris despite accusations that he harassed several female employees.

“Relations between the French Football Federation and Fifa are exceptional, similar to the relations between president Noël Le Graët and myself,” said Fifa president Gianni Infantino on January 27th. “The FFF is doing a remarkable job, and I often have the opportunity to talk with Noël Le Graët to better understand how the example set here in France can support football development projects on a global basis.”

Le Graët allegedly suggested two female colleagues join him for a threesome, touched the thigh of a third colleague and propositioned an unnamed member of the women’s squad, all the while knowing he was being investigated for sexual harassment.

Sonia Souid, a football agent, made further accusations spanning three years. Souid went public two weeks before Infantino’s high praise. Le Graët denies any wrongdoing.

Back in the Clairefontaine camp, reports of Griezmann throwing a strop because Deschamps chose Mbappé as captain make little sense. Griezmann was on the grass in Lusail as France stared into the abyss against Argentina during the World Cup final, 2-0 down and rocked by Ángel di María’s timeless goal. He witnessed what Mbappé did next.

True, Griezmann has been the country’s creative force for a decade but Mbappé's feats in the Doha desert pour out like liquefied gas.

On the eve of the World Cup final, the Sunday Times published an interview with Gareth Southgate, light on quotes but heavy on first-hand information about the England manager’s desire to keep his job. Deep into the piece came a revelation about how Kyle Walker would contain Mbappé.

“[Southgate and Walker] talked before the game about Mbappé and how it would be sensible for Walker to forget about overlapping and not cross the halfway line. He did that once in the first half, about 30 seconds before Aurélien Tchouaméni’s excellent shot put France into the lead [after a counterattack led by Mbappe].

“As France started the counterattack, Walker was caught on the wrong side of the ball. It was the only time it happened in the game.” That’s all Mbappé needs.

Just ask Matty Cash. The Aston Villa and Poland right back was excellent during their last-16 duel, keeping Mbappé in his pocket for 44 minutes (besides one half swerve putting him on his backside).

The assist for Oliver Giroud’s goal could have been a Mbappé finish only Cash body-checked his run to the return ball. Giroud swivelled and finished himself.

Late on, Mbappé nailed two sensational goals but neither dirtied Cash’s bib. The second French goal that night had nothing to do with anyone else on the pitch. Just Mbappé. Nobody is to blame for his illogically powerful effort. Four defenders were goal side, facing him, with a world-class goalkeeper in Wojciech Szczęsny having clear sight of the ball; the first goal was a fade to the near top corner, the second a draw to the far roof, scraping Szczęsny’s fully stretched fingertip.

“Raheem Sterling is rapid,” Cash told LadBible. “But Mbappé's another level, he shoots off the go and you can’t do anything. Nothing.”

Matt Doherty or Séamus Coleman will be showered with praise for producing a Cash-like shift on Monday night at the Aviva Stadium. Twice the Villa man cleanly dispossessed Mbappé, who betrayed zero emotion, just shuffled back to the left and waited.

“[Poland manager Czesław Michniewicz] wanted me to back off him, and I didn’t want to do that, I thought if I get tight there is less chance of him running at me,” said Cash. “The first couple it was fine, he gains a yard and you can’t do anything about him, but it was really good battle, to be honest. Obviously he scored two goals but in terms of one v one defending I stood up to him.”

One time Cash tugged on his shirt with both hands, an act Ecuador referee Jesús Valenzuela deemed to be acceptable, much to the disgust of Deschamps.

Eventually, Mbappé gets to where he needs to be. If for some reason he is contained by Doherty, Coleman, Jayson Molumby and Nathan Collins, France have Griezmann to switch the point of attack, going direct to Giroud or freeing Dembélé.

In Qatar, Mbappé was laser-focused from the first whistle. Against Australia he replicated the iconic Diego Maradona snap from 1982; Diego turning like a matador, primed to dribble between six Belgium bulls. Sportsfile’s Stephen McCarthy captured the mirror image from inside Al Janoub stadium, with Mbappé faced by six-gold shirted Socceroos.

And still, the old guard, French heroes from the 1980s right up to Robert Pires, fuelled a divisive conversation this week that penetrated Clairefontaine.

“A logical choice? Honestly, no,” said Pires “It’s a lack of respect towards Antoine. Although I must stress I have nothing against Kylian.”

“I vote Antoine Griezmann,” said Joël Bats, the perm-headed goalkeeper from Mexico ‘86. “Just because you yell doesn’t make you heard, and often when you go up in the towers, that’s when you get to say more bullshit. If Didier made Antoine captain, you journalists may be given smaller sentences than if it were Kylian Mbappé, but for the team, it’s ideal.”

Amid the furore, a pink-haired Griezmann received a giant birthday cake, already knowing his name will never be etched beside Platini, Deschamps, Zidane, Lloris … it passes over him, to Mbappé.

Come Thursday, the media storm had calmed as captain and vice captain met for a tete-a-tete. By nightfall Mbappé, unveiled at Stade de France, revealed: “I spoke with Antoine because he was disappointed. It’s understandable. I told him I would have had the same reaction. He is 32-years-old, he has been one of the best of the Didier Deschamps era. I told him that I am not his superior. He is respected and loved by the group. You have to benefit from his experience. We will be side by side.”

Such an entente cordiale happens inside every successful sports team, most businesses, many families too. Le Figaro’s latest cliffhanger ending wondered: “was the pill digested by Griezmann?”

Tune in on Monday to find out.