Feature

Expert view: Saliba pushing to star for France

William Saliba in action for France

Ahead of Euro 2024, we spoke to French football journalist Julien Laurens to discuss William Saliba’s importance to the France national team, and what the mood is like among the fans going into the tournament.

Read through his thoughts in the preview below.

Saliba’s importance to France

“I think he’s been great. Some of the games that he played, often he was playing in the B team because Didier Deschamps doesn’t see him as a number one pick, so at times it has been difficult because the team around him was new. The debate back home is that he should start, but we don’t think he will start the Euros.

“Deschamps prefers Upamecano and Konate to William, which I think a lot of people in France struggle to understand considering his performances with Arsenal this season and considering the second half of the season that Upamecano especially and Konate to some degree had with their clubs. If you look at what William did and what the other two did, there shouldn’t be any match, but in Deschamps’ mind it’s a little bit different. 

“The fans are very much on the Saliba bandwagon”

"He likes how complimentary of each other Konate and Upamecano have been. They’ve played a lot of games together and have experience together that William doesn’t have with either of them. Upamecano and Konate even played together at club level before the national team, and I think Deschamps really likes that.

“However, I think that, in the first game against Austria when we expect Upamecano and Konate to start together, if things are not perfect or not going well, I think William is so close behind now that Deschamps would not hesitate in taking out one of the others and starting William for the second game, but for now it looks like he won’t be starting the first game at the Euros.”

Saliba’s popularity

William Saliba in training with France

“People love him. The players love him within the squad. There are a lot of Parisian players in the team like him - half of the squad is from Paris. There are some players like Kylian Mbappe who he has known since they were children. I think that’s a bonus.

“In the fanbase, a lot of people who watch the Premier League - and there are a lot of Arsenal fans in France - they don’t really understand why he’s not a guaranteed starter because in my opinion he should be ahead of Upamecano. The fans are very much on the Saliba bandwagon and don’t really understand why Deschamps would not pick him for that first game against Austria, but again his approach and mindset is different to fans or us covering the national team.

“His best game was on Sunday night against Canada, which was the last friendly before we flew to Germany. He’s had other really good performances, but against Canada was special because back in March Deschamps was a bit critical of him in his press conference. William and Deschamps spoke about it together privately and Deschamps likes him. 

Saliba Canada

"There’s an aspect of his game where Deschamps, like Mikel Arteta, knows that he could be even better than what he is and this is only the beginning for him. That’s why both of them can be quite tough with him at times because they know there’s so much potential and he will get so much better than he is now, which is scary considering how good he already is.

“The game against Canada on Sunday was big because he started whereas he only came off the bench a few days before. This one was a big chance for him to show what he could do over 90 minutes. One thing that Deschamps has been talking about and William admitted himself was some lapses of concentration sometimes in his own game over 90 minutes. Against Canada he was on it for the whole game, outstanding from start to finish against Jonathan David who is a really strong striker in Europe. 

"He got the best ratings in the newspapers and that game showed how close the gap is between him and the other two. There was a time when he was way behind Konate and Upamecano in the pecking order. It really showed that he’s on the same level now. Everybody was asking the question if he has put himself out there to be picked as a starter.”

The mood in France

“High hopes, quite optimistic. The squad is great. Results in three of the last four tournaments have been great because we’ve reached a final every time, so there’s a lot of optimism that this could be another really good tournament. The last Euros was not great because we got a little bit arrogant and took for granted the end of that game against Switzerland.

"The tag of being favourites isn't easy to carry, but this team have been there before"

“Overall, we have the best player in the world, we have one of the best defenders in the world in Saliba, we have maybe the best national team head coach in the world in Deschamps, certainly the most experienced. There is so much depth, youth and experience everywhere, so I think people are quite excited and quite confident.”

What would represent a successful tournament

“Officially the line is at least the semi-finals, which is really the minimum for a team like France. The expectation and ambition from everyone, the players, the staff, the fans and us covering them is that they will go all the way. I know sometimes the tag of being the favourite isn’t easy to carry, but this team has been there before. Three finals out of the last four is impressive, so I think they really believe and feel they can win it.

“Confidence is really high amongst the fans and the team. If we don’t take things for granted and get too carried away, which the French tend to do because of the arrogance that we have in us, then hopefully it should be a really good tournament.”

More in our expert view series: Leandro Trossard | Jakub Kiwior | Jorginho | Kai Havertz

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