France’s UEFA Nations League preparation defined by Mbappe, Benzema’s happy reunion and Deschamps’ sadness

So far, everything was going perfectly well. Didier Deschamps welcomed 23 very happy French players to camp on Saturday ahead of four UEFA Nations League games over the next two weeks. There was Kylian Mbappe, who recently shocked the footballing world by extending his stay at Paris Saint-Germain. There was Antoine Griezmann, so relieved to be back with his compatriots and get some fresh air after tough weeks at Atletico Madrid towards the end of the 2021-22 season.

– What you need to know about the UEFA Nations League

There was Boubacar Kamara, the young midfielder who has just completed his move from Marseille to Aston Villa and is celebrating his first-ever national team call-up. There have been sightings of RB Leipzig all-action playmaker Christopher Nkunku, William Saliba (who is returning to Arsenal after a successful loan spell at Marseille) and Lens defender Jonathan Clauss, who is happy to be back for a second consecutive international break. The sun was shining, there were smiles all around and a very positive mood ahead of their games against Denmark, Croatia (twice) and Austria in their Nations League group.

The arrival of Karim Benzema on Monday night, after his Champions League victory with Real Madrid and his fifth European title in eight years, brought even more joy to Clairefontaine. He reunited with Mbappe, and we’ve all been waiting for the ‘reunion’ between the world’s deadliest centre-forward pair. Would there be tensions after Mbappe’s choice to reject Real Madrid and stay in Paris? Barely! The couple shared a big hug and plenty of jokes – none of the nonsense that surfaced on social media after Mbappe’s decision was announced.

Mbappe has been beaming around Clairefontaine this week: leader on and off the pitch, excellent in training, vocal, committed. It’s almost as if the new contract he got at PSG has lifted a huge weight off his shoulders.

But then, devastating news. French coach Didier Deschamps learned on Tuesday that his father had died, so he returned home to southwestern France to be with his family. His players held a very emotional minute’s silence before training on Tuesday – his assistant Guy Stephan led the sessions – and Deschamps’ phone was flooded with messages of grief, support and love from his team and its staff.

As they’ve shown countless times since Deschamps took over as coach in 2012, this team is more than just a team. They stick together whenever the going gets tough and show remarkable spirit, which showed again this week.

It’s a week that Deschamps will never forget, of course, and also a week where so much happened for his players. Although Paul Pogba has been omitted from this call-up by Deschamps so he can rest and prepare for the new season, we have had confirmation that his time at Manchester United is over; after six years of ups and downs, the French midfielder will no longer play for them. Usually Pogba gets a huge emotional boost when he joins the national team, but he has to sort out his future, with Juventus (where he played from 2012-2016) his likeliest destination. (He is expected to announce his new club in his Amazon documentary series, titled “The Pogmentary,” which is set to debut on June 17.)

It will be interesting to see how the Blues fare without his leadership and talent in this quartet of great matches. Aurélien Tchouameni will replace him in midfield, and he too will never forget this week. After all, this is the week he is expected to join Real Madrid.

The deal, revealed last week by ESPN, is now fully in place despite some issues with transfer taxes. The former Monaco player spoke about it with Benzema, who told him everything he wanted and needed to know about the Spanish giants, including how to become European champions!

Real will pay a big price to get the deal done but Tchouameni is worth every penny. In the space of 12 months, the La Liga champions have bought the two players who should dominate the French midfield (Eduardo Camavinga and Tchouameni) for the next 10 years! Until that deal is done, however, France will take full advantage of Tchouameni’s talent, whether he starts alongside N’Golo Kante or Adrien Rabiot in midfield on Friday, or even if he is the first option. on the bench.

Strength in depth is as good as it has ever been for France, but this team could also see some historic changes unfold this week off the pitch. French Football Federation (FFF) chief Noel Le Graet has had a meeting with Mbappe, Hugo Lloris, Griezmann, Kanté and Raphael Varane to discuss players’ image rights while on international duty.

Until now, the players of the France team had to do what the federation wanted them to do in terms of marketing and sponsorship, with the FFF retaining their image rights from the first call to the last. In March, Mbappe refused to have his image used by some French sponsors, saying no to a gambling partner and a fast food partner. Players, like the PSG star, want more control and Le Graet is expected to give in to their demands. A second meeting is scheduled for the next few days, but it is a positive step forward.

Friday night’s game against Denmark at the Stade de France can’t come too soon. The players will start defending their Nations League, which they want to keep, and they will play for Deschamps and his family. (Deschamps won’t be there, with his assistant Stephan taking charge on the bench.) They’ll also be playing with the World Cup in Qatar in mind. The defense of this title also begins now, because November will arrive sooner than we think. It’s time to focus.

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