The contrast between the facial expressions and body language of France teammates Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann over the past two days could not have been bigger. Mbappe, who was named the new France captain on Monday by Didier Deschamps, after the international retirement of Hugo Lloris and Raphael Varane, has been all smiles and full of energy; it’s clear he’s already in leadership mode. Griezmann, who was passed over for the role, cut a different figure.
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When he arrived at Clairefontaine, Les Bleus‘ HQ in the south of Paris, Mbappe was wearing sunglasses and a long cashmere coat from two of his sponsors. He looked like the boss of the place, almost like he knew that he would be given the captaincy. At 24, he is one of the youngest French captains and after his incredible performances at the 2022 World Cup — he scored eight goals, including three in the final defeat to Argentina — it is understandable why Deschamps picked the Paris-Saint Germain star.
On the other hand, Griezmann has been hurt by the snub. He really believed that he would be named the new captain, and he has a compelling case. There’s his national team experience — the Atletico Madrid forward turned 32 on Tuesday and he has 117 caps for France, compared to Mbappe’s 66 — his strong bond with Deschamps since winning his first cap back in 2014, and his form in LaLiga, where he has been one of the best players this season, as well as at the World Cup.
Griezmann could see himself leading France at Euro 2024 in Germany, which is likely to be his last international competition, but instead he will only be vice-captain. To say that he was upset by the decision is an understatement. He didn’t complain to Deschamps directly, but in private he was fuming and you could clearly see it in the days after he was informed. He won’t quit the national team — he will play on Friday against Netherlands and on Monday against the Republic of Ireland — but he is not in a good mood right now.
The announcement marks the start of a new era for France — the Mbappe era — beginning with Euro 2024 qualifying this week. But with that choice come the obvious critiques.
Is he as much of a team player as Griezmann, who has been coached into that role at Atletico by Diego Simeone? No he isn’t. Is he France’s best player? Of course. Are best players always the captains of their respective teams? Not all the time, but still more often than not. Was it easier for Deschamps to tell Griezmann the bad news than it would have been with Mbappe? Certainly.
If you’re Deschamps, you can’t afford to “lose” Mbappe. In a recent interview with Le Parisien, the head coach made it quite clear how he views his new captain.
“Kylian is the best in the world,” Deschamps said. “What he is doing at his age is exceptional.” Asked what impresses him the most about the PSG star, he added: “His maturity, his intelligence. He controls his communication, speaks different languages. He has the ability to make tough situations simple.
“Some people say that he is selfish; I don’t agree. Of course, he can make the difference on his own but he is always thinking about the team … He brings so many solutions. He has his temper and his personality but he is easy to deal with.”
Deschamps, who signed a four-year extension after the World Cup, knows he needs Mbappe on his side more than Griezmann. At his age, and despite a very good World Cup playing in a new deeper midfield position, the Atletico forward is not as indispensable.
However, it will be an adjustment for the PSG forward. The armband obviously puts more responsibility on Mbappe beyond his own form. But it shouldn’t feel like extra pressure or become a burden; if anything, it will be an extra motivation for him to become even better. We saw at the World Cup how Mbappe stepped up when it came to leadership, on and off the field. It will be much of the same in terms of day-to-day responsibilities, but the captaincy can also make him more mindful of the greater collective.
Deschamps can say what he wants: Mbappe does have a well-curated image and carries a bit of reputation as a selfish player. Some of the reactions and frustrations he’s shown towards some of his teammates in the past can’t happen now that he’s captain. It will serve him well to wear the armband and teach him to be more measured at all times.
However, his entourage has told ESPN that the captaincy won’t change him and that he is relishing the opportunity. Knowing Mbappe’s competitive nature, he will not just want to be a good captain, he will want to be the best captain the France team has ever seen — the most successful, the most efficient.
He might not beat the record set by Lloris for the most caps as captain (121), but the Mbappe era and this journey should prove very interesting indeed.