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Saturday, April 13, 2024

France begins new era with Mbappe as captain

Off the field, a series of scandals brought down veteran French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet but not before he had agreed a deal for coach Didier Deschamps to remain in his job until 2026.

Three months on from their agonising defeat in the World Cup final in Doha, France begin a new era with several veterans having retired and Kylian Mbappe handed the captain’s armband for their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.

The aftermath of that loss on penalties to Argentina in Qatar has been turbulent, to say the least.

Read more: Mbappe says will ‘never’ get over World Cup heartbreak

Off the field, a series of scandals brought down veteran French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet but not before he had agreed a deal for coach Didier Deschamps to remain in his job until 2026.

Not everyone in France agreed with the decision to extend the reign of a coach who has been in charge since 2012, especially as Zinedine Zidane is seen as an ideal successor.

On the pitch, the biggest name to bow out is goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who retired from international duty at the age of 36 and after over a decade as captain.

The Tottenham ‘keeper became France’s most-capped player during the World Cup and his departure left Deschamps needing a new goalkeeper as well as a new skipper.

With long-term back-up goalkeeper Steve Mandanda also quitting, AC Milan’s Mike Maignan will take the gloves when France welcome the Netherlands to the Stade de France on Friday for their opening qualifier.

Read more: Messi named FIFA player of the year 2022

There was never any doubt about that, but there was some doubt over who would become captain, with Antoine Griezmann a contender.

Yet it was impossible to ignore Mbappe, who showed himself to be a leader with his breathtaking hat trick in the World Cup final. At 24, the Paris Saint-Germain forward could realistically skipper the side for a decade.

“Kylian ticked all the boxes to have that extra responsibility. But on the other hand it is nothing against Antoine who has always been an important player,” Deschamps said this week.

Olivier Giroud, France’s all-time record goal-scorer, is still there at 36. But Raphael Varane has retired, as has Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, who missed the World Cup after succumbing to injury on the eve of the tournament.

“You can’t replace people who have been there for 10 years, you need time,” admitted Deschamps, who said he understood the decision of Manchester United centre-back Varane to step down at the age of 29.

“The demands of the highest level can lead to fatigue, whether that be physical or psychological,” said Deschamps, who himself quit playing entirely at 32.