France manager Didier Deschamps, blessed with an embarrassment of riches, has the strongest squad to conquer the world at Russia 2018
At present, Kylian Mbappe will next summer become the second most costliest player ever
Over the past week, the noise around Clairefontaine, the well-appointed practice headquarters of the France national team has often sounded more like that of a trading floor of a major stock exchange. Offers rising towards €100 million (Dh436m), deals in futures set at almost twice as much.
Bleus stock, in short, is very much in fashion and one of the many positive aspects France’s manager Didier Deschamps could take out of Thursday’s commanding 4-0 win against the Netherlands - which propelled France into pole position in Group A qualifying for the 2018 World Cup - was how coolly some of his younger players responded to the breath-taking financial flattery surrounding them on the last day of the transfer window.
Take Thomas Lemar. The Monaco forward, just 21 and coming off a breakthrough season in which he was not always a guaranteed starter for the Ligue 1 champions. On Thursday, as he prepared to win his sixth cap, he learned Arsenal’s enthusiasm for buying him had reached such a point they would be prepared to pay, all told, over €90m. Lemar said no. And promptly went out and scored his first two goals in a France jersey.
There was a first international goal, too, for Kylian Mbappe, barely 24 hours after he had ceased to be Lemar’s club colleague, the complicated deal that will take the teenager to Paris Saint-Germain for a season on loan and then to PSG permanently 12 months later having been sealed while the player was taking orders from Deschamps a few miles outside Paris. Monaco’s yield from the Mbappe sale could rise to an astonishing €180m.
It would be tempting to say Mbappe will take some overtaking as the second most expensive footballer in history – behind PSG’s Neymar - at that fee but the market is so wildly inflationary predictions like that are risky.
What does seem likely is that another Frenchman will soon be setting the next high benchmark for spending in excess of €100m. In the current climate, what price Antoine Griezmann, leader of France’s attack, hugely admired and pursued by the some of the richest clubs as a priority until, ahead of the summer trading, he committed himself firmly to at least another season at Atletico Madrid?
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Griezmann’s buyout clause stood at €200m this summer, but drops in 2018, by which time Deschamps will have decided who, in Russia, should be supporting his spearhead striker up front. If the manager made his choice based on price-tags, it would be the winger Ousmane Dembele, who has just moved from Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona for an initial €105m; and either Anthony Martial, who joined Manchester United from Monaco for a fee that, with add-ons, was worth a potential €58m, or Alex Lacazette, for whom Arsenal committed up to €60m to Lyon two months ago.
Right now, that trio are simply in the queue. “When you look at France’s bench, and the players who were absent, they can be even better,” said the Netherlands manager Dick Advocaat after a chastening defeat to a side without Martial or Dembele and with Mbappe and Lacazette as late substitutes. Up against France on Sunday are anxious minnows Luxembourg, who pulled off a rare victory, 1-0 against Belarus, last week, but are well out of contention for Russia.
The fertile territory that Deschamps can harvest is not simply made up of highly valued forwards. Paul Pogba was until the soaring summer of 2017 the world’s priciest footballer, at the €100m-plus United paid Juventus last year. Benjamin Mendy became a member of Manchester City’s de luxe full-back brigade thanks to his €50m-plus move from Monaco in July, while Tiemoue Bakayoko, a deep-lying midfielder with one cap so far, earned Monaco just under another €50m by joining Chelsea the same month.
At Bayern Munich, they have watched the contagion of these sorts of prices and congratulate themselves on having sealed a price of just over €20m for Kingsley Coman, the French winger they took on loan for two seasons until this summer from Juventus before buying him at that pre-agreed price in June. At Real Madrid, there is a smugness that they spotted Rafael Varane, the centre-half, in his early teens, when he was cheap; Barcelona last year paid €25m for Samuel Umtiti, Varane’s fellow central defender and, at 23, a year younger than Varane.
With these options – and many more – Deschamps has been dealt a hand as strong as any national team manager to pick from. The market says so, emphatically.
Updated: September 2, 2017 03:31 PM