Daylight is starting to return, winter is almost behind us and thoughts are starting to turn to this summer. With France hosting the European Championships, there is a pressure on the home nation to be all-conquering.
So much of their success depends on the 23 players Didier Deschamps selects for the tournament, and there are still some big decisions to be made before the season it out. The future of Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena is still up in the air, there are places in the midfield up for grabs and the defence has its problems.
In the past, Deschamps has shown that he is very loyal to the players he trusts. That has also been made to look stubborn at times, no more so than when the France boss was asked about the injustice of not selecting West Ham United’s Dimitri Payet.
"I've already called and I have already spoken to him about it. I said that I expected more from him than he (produced) when he was with us.”
"It was not enough. In the France team, he does not do the same thing (as he does) in his club.
"He is someone who is powerful in the club. He often plays on the left in a 4-3-3. He has some very interesting statistics on the left.
"But after that there is a competition issue. In this position on the left, the competition is from Anthony Martial, Antoine Griezmann, Mathieu Valbuena, Hatem Ben Arfa or Nabil Fekir before he got injured."
Payet is the sort of player that can play on either side of the attack, but most importantly, he drifts through the centre and makes things happen. He creates chances, asks questions of the defence and provides attackers with the opportunities they crave.
Something that France have often lacked on the big occasion.
Valbuena will make the squad, he is one of Deschamps’ most trusted and despite his poor form for Lyon, he has never let his country down. France’s problem is looking for someone that can create and change a game from the off, Payet has that, but unlike Valbuena, he has faltered on the international stage.
There are definitely doors opening for a place at the top table this summer. The success of N’Golo Kante at Leicester City has to have caught Deschamps’ attention, but as the former Caen man has never been called into a squad, never-mind capped, it would be the longest of long shots to see him given an opportunity – but all that could change for the friendlies against Netherlands and Russia at the end of March.
One name that seems nailed on to make the squad is Manchester United’s Anthony Martial. No one in France underestimated his ability last summer, but not many predicted his success at Old Trafford and his place in the national team – something that wouldn’t have happened had he not left the French Riviera.
At the end of last season, Alexandre Lacazette was the hottest striker in France. Ending the campaign with 27 league goals as Lyon finished second to PSG, his stock was higher than ever. However, that has all changed. In a recent poll by magazine France Football, the Lyon man came 11th when the readers were asked who should play upfront for Les Bleus – Martial finished second behind Antoine Griezmann.
Leaving France for pastures new seems to be the road to success for France’s young players. Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman finished level with Payet in the poll and looks like a genuine outsider for Deschamps squad.
The French winger has taken advantage of injury to Franck Ribery and has taken the Bundesliga by storm. As a youth product of the PSG system, with every excellent performance the Parisians get to see the one that got away – and it looks like the French public will get to see it for themselves this summer.
No matter how well Payet plays this season, with Deschamps having his doubts and France bulging with attacking options, it’s going to come down to the wire to make Deschamps’ shortlist.
There are only four games scheduled until the opening group game against Romania – putting even more importance into how the Premier League ends this season.
Who can ignore a title winning midfielder, or the forward who secures success for Louis van Gaal?
Deschamps will be watching.
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