Unlike at the last World Cup, where France had an abundance of experience and not a great deal of youth, manager Didier Deschamps, who clearly feels that exuberance and raw talent is now more valuable than tournament experience, has flipped things ahead of the 2018 renewal. With just five players over the age of thirty and six players who’re no older than 22, Les Bleus’ current squad has a very youthful look to it.
They may be young, though you can’t help but think that Les Bleus have upgraded massively in several areas by bringing in such standout talents. Below we take a more in-depth look at France’s exciting young stars.
Having learned his trade at Lille, making 21 appearances for the first team at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Benjamin Pavard’s star has risen since joining German side Vfb Stuttgart in August 2016. During his first season, when Stuttgart were playing in the second division, Pavard became an important player, though it was during the 2017/18 campaign when the intelligent defender, who is adept at utilising both feet when calmly playing his way out of defence, really started to grab the intentions of both a wider audience and, more importantly, the national team manager.
In terms of consistently delivering a performance of the highest quality, few would argue that Benjamin Pavard finished the most recent Bundesliga campaign as Stuttgart’s most eye-catching player. Assured, assertive and comfortable at getting his team going from the back are all ways of describing the 22-year-old, though it is perhaps the way in which the defender commands the space around him, proactively reading the game, that is most impressive. Rarely is Pavard caught napping, while it is usually he that is the first to snuff out danger.
Fun fact: Only three players averaged more interceptions per game than Benjamin Pavard in the Bundesliga last season.
A vital cog in Diego Simeone’s defensive machine, Lucas Hernández comes into Deschamps’ World Cup squad off the back of an excellent season at club level, a season that culminated in continental glory with Atlético winning the Europa League.
From a footballing family in Marseille, the full-back quickly rose through the ranks at Atletico Madrid having joined the youth system back in 2014, though it wasn’t long before he was involved with the first team. Having gradually been integrated in the regular rear-guard, Hernández is now going to the World Cup having been a mainstay of Atletico’s back four during the 2017/18 campaign.
Physically strong and quick, Hernández is rarely bullied or easily beaten, while he has also developed a fine knack for getting a foot in at the right time. Whether it be stepping out directly to tackle the opponent in possession or chasing back against an onrushing winger, the full-back is adept at ridding the opposition of the ball.
Fun fact: During the 2017/18 season, Lucas Hernández averaged the fifth most tackles per match in La Liga.
He may have won just two caps for France, but Presnel Kimpembe is a young defender whose stock has risen considerably over the last season or so. Having mainly represented PSG’s second string until 2016, the rangy defender, who started 27 times for PSG last season, has since become an integral part of the Ligue 1 champions’ rear-guard.
A player who likes to get on the ball and play out from the back, Kimpembe has already made a name for himself as an all-action defender. Not only is the youngster adept at regaining possession in his own half, but rarely does he hesitate in driving his side forward at pace before instigating an attack.
Given both his age and the fact that there are a couple of other central defenders who’re more experienced at international level in this squad, the PSG defender may not be first choice at the World Cup, though, if needed, Deschamps knows that he can all on a player who has very few weaknesses.
Fun fact: Presnel Kimpembe completed more passes than all but four defenders, all of whom played at least five more games than the youngster, in Ligue 1 last season.
Having shot up the footballing ladder in the last couple of seasons, 21-year-old Ousmane Dembélé, who cost Barcelona no less than £97 million, goes to the World Cup as the fourth most expensive player of all time.
The explosive winger, who looks the opposing full-back in the eyes before leaving him in his wake, burst onto the scene during the 2015/16 where his performances for Rennes – scoring 12 goals in 26 games – earned the youngster a move to German club Borussia Dortmund. Dembélé’s performances during the 2016/17 season in the Bundesliga, where the fledgling professional honed his skills, tormented defenders, drove his team forward and delivered regular service into the box, prompted Barcelona to bring the winger to Camp Nou for an astronomical fee.
Injury struck early on into his Barcelona career, so the fans in Catalonia are yet to see the best of the young winger, though, now fully recovered, the explosive, direct and skilful individual looks set to star on the biggest stage of all for his country.
Fun fact: When playing for Dortmund during the 2016/17 season, Ousmane Dembélé completed more dribbles (on average) than any other player in the Bundesliga.
Check out our Best Ever World Cup XI series, starting with: France’s Best Ever World Cup XI
Part of Monaco’s 2016/17 Ligue 1 title winning side, Thomas Lemar is another exciting youngster who looks destined for stardom.
In 2010, Lemar was shrewdly picked up by Caen as a youth player, and it was in Normandy where the wide midfielder cut his teeth as a very young pro. Having made 32 senior appearances for Caen, impressing with his ability to get on the ball and create chances for others, primarily from out on the flanks, where the youngster has a knack of delivering teasing balls into the box, Monaco came calling.
Since joining Monaco, Lemar, who differs from the typical pacey winger in the sense that he has an outstanding range of passing and prefers to create by distributing the ball sooner rather than later, has gone on to be one of Ligue 1’s standout performers. His efforts over the last two seasons have earned the Guadeloupe born midfielders all sorts of plaudits, while his performances have also made him a target for some of the biggest and best clubs in Europe.
Effective from both set plays and long-range, the 22-year-old has also become known for his wand-like left foot, which is likely to be utilised on a regular basis by Deschamps in Russia this summer.
Fun fact: During the 2016/17 season, Thomas Lemar assisted more goals than any other player in France’s top division.
Perhaps the most high-prolife of the young players who’ll be representing France at the World Cup, despite being by far the youngest at just 19, Kylian Mbappé will go to Russia as the world’s second most expensive player after PSG reportedly paid a staggering £160 million for the teenager last summer.
After starring at various age groups for AS Bondy in the Parisian suburbs, Mbappé moved to Monaco in 2015, and having made just 12 appearances for the second string, first team manager Leonardo Jardim quickly saw that the youngster, whose raw pace and ability to intricately dribble with the ball at speed is eye-catching to say the least, was ready for the big time.
Before moving to PSG, where the forward has quickly become a key player, the teenager scored no less than 26 goals in just 44 appearances for Monaco, while he gained global attention for his breath-taking performances during the 2016/17 renewal of the UEFA Champions League.
By being direct and by taking players on at pace, Mbappé is not just a player who gets fans up off their seats, but he’s a player who, crucially, unsettles and worries opponents. Defenders are rarely comfortable when a forward player has the confidence to continually take them on, especially if it is done at speed, and there are already few players in world football who hesitate less in doing so than France’s highly gifted forward.
Reminiscent of a young Thierry Henry in the way that he can glide past opponents, burst into the box and slot the ball seamlessly into the back of the net, Kylian Mbappé is expected to be one of the leading lights for France in Russia this summer. Who knows, perhaps the youngster will follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned Henry and win football’s biggest prize at such a tender age.
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