Laurent Blanc, Marcel Desailly, Lilian Thuram – just a few French defenders who have achieved world fame.
Not so easy when you consider the offensive superstars that the “Equipe Tricolore” have been equipped with for many years, with Zinedine Zidane the Grande Nation also provided one, if not the best player of all time.
In the current French national team, players like Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba are also in the spotlight. But the regularly enforced generation change also ensures an illustrious selection of central defenders, from Man United’s Raphael Varane to Bayern’s Dayot Upamecano and Barcelona’s Jules Kounde.
However, with William Saliba, another top talent is currently in the fast lane. The 21-year-old is not only surprisingly at the top of the Premier League with Arsenal due to absolute top performances, but is also traded in the French team as a hot stock of the future, which the 1.92-meter giant, as in Vienna also wants to prove it in the Nations League duel in Paris.
At Arsenal since 2019 but not a single game until August
The fact that Saliba has been under the radar of many football fans until recently is underscored by the fact that he has been under contract with Arsenal FC for three years but has never played. The “Gunners” had the services of the then only 18-year-old cost 30 million euros – money that he has not yet been able to bring in.
Coming from AS St. Etienne, where he made his breakthrough, he was loaned back immediately after being signed by the Premier League club, and then Saliba played on loan at OGC Nice for six months. And since all good things come in threes, a third loan followed within France to Olympique Marseille.
At least in his homeland, the defensive player born in Bondy was always seeded, with OM almost always the first choice in 52 competitive games. Born in a suburb of Paris to a Cameroonian father and a Lebanese father, he decided to play for France and was promoted to the U21 national team during his time in Marseille, which he ended up leading as captain.
The only downside to Saliba’s rise? He had not played a competitive game for Arsenal professionals in three years (only 8 in the Gunners’ Under-21s) before becoming a fixture this summer. The youngster is now paying back this newly won trust – and how. Because suddenly there is talk that Saliba could become one of the best French defenders of all time.
Rio Ferdinand names “only” four defenders who were better at 21
And that after just seven appearances under Mikel Arteta. The hype surrounding him and the associated success of the Gunners at the start of the Premier League season took on unexpected forms and made football connoisseurs click their tongues.
Ex-Manchester United defense chief Rio Ferdinand, who influences millions of Premier League fans with his TV expertise, curbs the euphoria about Saliba, but only names four former companions from the Premier League, who at the age of 21 already were further and better than that young man, who is compared to Ferdinand in terms of his elegance and his self-image on the ball.
“Jonathan Woodgate, Sol Campbell, John Terry, trust me. Woodgate 100 percent, without hesitation,” Ferdinand admits to Vibe. “Wes Brown at 21. He won the Champions League. He was on the team that won the Trible and was playing games back then.”
He was criticized by the seasoned ex-defender for mistakes in Arsenal’s lost game against Manchester United – but who is perfect at this age? Ferdinand is therefore still certain that Saliba can become a top-class central defender if you don’t compare him to the best of all time and put him under pressure. “Right now I think Saliba has a really good chance of becoming a really, really good player. He just needs time.”
Arteta raves: “He was excellent”
Time is a good keyword, because he has only been active at Premier League level for a few weeks. Seven times in seven games over the full distance with already two goals of the season against Bournemouth and last weekend against Brentford and an assist against Fulham.
His presence, defensive prowess and scoring prowess have also been instrumental in Arsenal’s perfect start to the season, with five straight wins and now six full victories in seven matches. Most recently against Brentford, Saliba even stunned his coach Mikel Arteta.
“He was excellent. He hadn’t trained for ten days because he had a slight ailment, but he comes in and performs like this. Not just because of the goal and his defence, but he also does the ugly part of the game that people don’t noticed. He deserves recognition.”
The path is right, but Saliba’s contract only runs until 2024, so fears have arisen that the centre-back could refuse an extension of his contract. But the youngster made it clear to “Sky Sports” when asked if he felt at home: “Yes, of course. I’m at home here. I love London, the club, everything here. I feel at home here.”
Reunion with the ÖFB team for “Les Bleus”
For the time being, however, the Gunners’ hope for the future is far from “home”. Because despite his 21 years, he is not only one of the few youngsters in the Premier League who get confidence in central defense, but also in the French national team – and after all, he is the reigning world champion and Nations League winner.
The debut was only six months ago, at that time still on loan at Marseille, in March 2022. At that time, the up-and-coming defender said. “I’ve played zero games for Arsenal, I want to show them my true colors and have a chance to play for these fans and this big club.”
The fact that he was allowed to appear earlier for the “Equipe Tricolore” than for his parent club can be classified as a curiosity. Saliba played in five out of six games this year, in three of them for the entire duration – and mostly with different side players.
Team boss Didier Deschamps is not afraid to let the 21-year-old shine on the big stage, he was also seeded in the 1-1 draw against Austria in Vienna and could appear in the starting XI again in Paris, even if he did in the last appearance in June – in four games in ten days – against Croatia was granted a break.
It’s tough competition, but Deschamps relies on Saliba
This is also remarkable because the competition in central defense is tough.
Raphael Varane, Dayot Upamecano, Benjamin Pavard and Joules Kounde appear alone in the current squad with a few failures. Ibrahima Konate, Presnel Kimpembe or Lucas Hernandez, who can play inside and outside, usually come along.
Deschamps said of his new star defender during the last training session at Telefoot: “He’s a real defender. He has this ability in duels, he’s fast and a good header. He’s one of those people who is calm, unperturbed and a have great maturity.”
“My dream is to play with my country at the World Cup”
Brentford also felt this recently, head coach Thomas Frank got enthusiastic after the final whistle and predicted a great future for Saliba: “Saliba…Oooof! He’ll be a full-fledged national player for France, I’m sure of that. He’ll be fine will soon be in the starting XI and this is a really strong national team.”
The player himself is currently living his dream. 1st with Arsenal in the Premier League, France’s selection on the way up. But a young professional like him still has big dreams in this regard. “If you can represent your country, that’s outstanding,” said Saliba on “Sky Sports”.
“My dream is to play with my country at the World Cup and I hope to be in the squad,” said the top talent. Given his current form, he needn’t worry about playing in Qatar in November. And after three years, Arsenal finally have the player who has grown into one of the hottest stocks in Europe through loans and more playing time.
Text Source: © LAOLA1.at
to the top »