There’s been a few selection shocks for the upcoming international friendlies due to take place at the end of the season.
Alexandre Lacazette has been excluded from the France squad along with Manchester City’s treble-winning Aymeric Laporte, James Maddison has missed out on a place in the England squad to the inconsistent and injury-plagued Jesse Lingard, and in happier news Santi Cazorla has made his long awaited return to the Spanish squad after four years away – a joy for anyone who follows football.
Whilst it’s the news about Cazorla that has caused the most delight, it’s actually the news about Lacazette, Laporte and Maddison that is most interesting.
The reasons for the Arsenal striker’s exclusion from the squad are probably applicable to all, but it’s only right to dissect exactly why a forward who’s played so wonderfully for his club hasn’t been given the chance to thrive for his country, especially as it’s coming at the expense of footballers in decline who haven’t enjoyed the same form as the Gunners no. 9 – such as Olivier Giroud.
It’s important to remember that the managers in question here, Didier Deschamps and Gareth Southgate, have enjoyed incredibly successful spells in their jobs at two nations who had lost their dominance and identity in international football for a very long time. Deschamps won the World Cup last summer, and it’s vital to understand how he did it in order to appreciate why Lacazette still hasn’t forced his way into the squad.
The France boss found a winning formula that he believed in, persisted with over Euro 2016 and then watched his plan come to fruition in Russia 2018, a devised approach that earned the French that golden globe trophy. In an era where one or two months of good form is rewarded with two or three international caps, Deschamps and Southgate are bucking that trend. It’s no longer enough to just be a good player, or to play out of your skin for a few weeks. To earn a call-up for these nations, you need to not only be better than your competition but also be good enough to penetrate your way past the years of preparation, team-bonding and trust that’s been built by these managers for their players.
Lacazette is a better player than Giroud, no one could possibly dispute that, but that’s not enough these days. And to be honest, this approach is admirable. For years international squads lost their values and it felt anyone could earn a call-up, but these two managers are pioneering a change in attitude for what it means to play for your country – quite frankly it’s incredibly refreshing.
Giroud has spent years working with Deschamps, executing his instructions selflessly and perfectly, and it’s delivered success on a global scale. It’s only right that this is rewarded and built on further.
Jesse Lingard has had a poor season by his standards and has been totally outshone by Premier League debutant Maddison. However once again, that’s not enough. Southgate has preached that his squads will include leaders to make up a core element of his side, with every player understanding their role precisely, and the Leicester player’s exclusion is the clearest example of this yet.
As long as the door is not firmly shut on these players, there seems nothing wrong with making the squad harder to break into. It’s a fine balancing act though, because Joachim Low arguably went too far the other way as he omitted Leroy Sane from Germany’s World Cup squad filled with the same ageing names from Brazil 2014. The side were a tired, worn out group that struggled immensely in Russia. So, everything in moderation.
Lacazette is a phenomenal player, in fact he’s probably under-rated by those who don’t watch Arsenal regularly. However, Deschamps’ approach can only be respected, as he’s making the France squad his own. He’s not just pooling together a group of the best players he can, he’s considering very carefully who matches his footballing philosophy and building a group of specially selected players to make the best team he can. This can only be great for international football, and what it means to play for your country.