Another international squad picked. Another omission. That is Aymeric Laporte’s relationship with the France national team.
His country’s curious decision to continue to overlook him for selection baffles those within and outside its borders.
On paper, Laporte is one of the top defenders in the world and has won two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and two League Cups already in two-and-a-half seasons at Manchester City – where he is their first-choice centre back. However, in the eyes of France national boss Didier Deschamps he is not one of his main options.
On Thursday, Deschamps named his squad for their upcoming Nations League matches with Sweden and Croatia. Eight defenders were selected with four centre backs chosen in Presnel Kimpembe (PSG), Clement Lenglet (Barcelona), Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig) and Raphael Varane (Real Madrid). Bayern Munich’s Lucas Hernandez was also selected with the 24-year-old adept at left back or centre back.
Once again though, there was no Laporte. At 26 he is in international limbo as France don’t appear to want him and Spain aren’t allowed to have him.
He had hoped that proving himself in the Premier League, and under Pep Guardiola who demands a lot from his defenders, would leave Deschamps with no choice but to pick him. However, he remains uncapped for his country despite being called up four times in his career.
He went over two years without being selected for a squad altogether between March 2017 and August 2019.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit football, the defender had revealed his aim of earning a recall by Deschamps for March’s friendlies ahead of Euro 2020.
‘The squad announcement in March? I look at all the squad announcements. I hope that I will be there,’ Laporte told Telefoot.
‘It has been bouncing around my head for a while, I spoke with Didier Deschamps about coming back for Les Bleus, I am trying to show that I have the qualities to make the French national team. Certainly, making the Euros at the end of this year would be the best thing.’
Laporte is left-footed and France are blessed with numerous left-footed defensive options. It’s right-footers they lack with little back-up for Varane – bar the emergence of Upamecano. That also works against Laporte but that alone cannot be what is keeping him out of the squad.
The 26-year-old has seen the likes of Eliaquim Mangala, Samuel Umtiti, Mamadou Sakho, Kimpembe and Lenglet all picked ahead of him during various years under Deschamps – with the latter two named in the current France squad.
Theories that have swirled round as to why Laporte has been overlooked include does he have a ‘strong enough’ personality for Deschamps and is he too ‘insular’.
Then there is the suggestion that the France coach does not like Laporte’s dalliance with the Spain national side but other players have considered Spain when it seemed France did not want them. Hernandez is one and Deschamps picks him.
It also seems a smack in the face for Laporte considering that Deschamps has given a surprise recall to Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot, who fell out with the coach after asking to be taken off the list of reserve players for the 2018 World Cup.
‘It was a mistake on his part. What happened has happened, I’m not someone who likes to take radical positions,’ Deschamps said of Rabiot on Thursday. ‘I would like to think he’ll be here on Monday. I’ll get the chance to talk with him then.’
Laporte grew up supporting Bordeaux – his favourite players were Sylvain Wiltord and Christophe Dugarry. He only considered the Spain option when there seemed no way to progress with his home nation. He wanted to play for France, still does.
Spain would love to take him. Laporte has been likened to arguably the greatest Spanish defender of them all – Carles Puyol. He has that same ability to defend when half the pitch is at his back and to anticipate danger before it becomes an unresolvable problem.
As he watched his central defensive resources dwindle, former Spain coach Julen Lopetegui recognised Laporte as the answer to Gerard Pique’s imminent retirement. The Spanish Football Federation did everything possible to ‘sign’ Laporte in the same way they ‘signed’ Diego Costa. But while Brazilian-born Costa qualified for a Spanish passport through residency, Laporte no longer does because he lives in the UK and he did not start the process while he was living in Spain.
Had he began the process when he was at Athletic Bilbao then he would have been granted citizenship. His desire to be Spanish would have been registered and he would be able to represent Spain having never debuted in France’s senior team.
However, starting the process after having left Spain, it would be evident that he was making the request only in order to play football for Spain and it would not be granted. ‘He can only play with France; he can’t play with Spain’ a source close to the player confirmed to Sportsmail in 2018. Spain have likewise briefed that the Laporte option has been ‘discarded’.
‘I’m not going to pick him just because there is another country trying to take him,’ Deschamps said in 2016 when Spain still believed they had a chance. The clamour for him to be given his first full cap may have worked only to toughen Deschamps’ resolve not to give in.
Fast forward four years and this still rings true sadly for Laporte.