The circus is in town. France never come alone. A travelling media ensemble, booking out Dublin 4 hotels months in advance, are following a story that has at least 10 years to run.
Their number has grown substantially since the 2018 World Cup because one name sells more newspapers, clicks more websites and expands audience figures than any Fontaine, Platini, Zidane or Henry ever could.
Kylian Mbappé glides into Dublin with Michel Platini in his rifle scope. A hat-trick against Ireland would see him draw level with the former Uefa president’s goal tally for France.
“For me, it’s an honour to be at this stage,” said the 24-year-old. “That’s my next target and I’ll keep going, it might be tomorrow, it might not. Obviously Michel Platini is a legend of French football, but I’ll get past that mark at some point.”
The delivery draws an explosion of laughter from men and women who will eventually turn on him. For now, they serenade his every quip. And, to be fair, it sounded funny.
“That’s Kylian, he’s full of ambitions, always setting himself new objectives, new goals,” said France manager Didier Deschamps inside a packed Aviva media room. “He always sets his sights high. But the group, the collective comes first. He’s gone past people quickly, but his motivation is to keep going.”
[ Kylian Mbappé is capable of tearing Ireland apart even if France are divided ]
North America is waiting for Mbappé in 2026, and fear not, his English was exemplary when asked to speak about Evan Ferguson.
“We saw some clips of him. It’s his first season as a striker, an important striker for that team [he may mean Brighton] but we hope tomorrow that it is not good for him, we want to win and we want to do a good job. But he is a good player.”
[ Kylian Mbappé’s (yes, okay, somewhat tenuous) links to a Cavan saint ]
Last Thursday Mbappé was unveiled as French captain following a ridiculous week of anonymously sourced reporting about how Antoine Griezmann was livid at being overlooked. International retirement was seemingly imminent for the 32-year-old. Mbappé needed to sit him down for a PlayStation marathon. Of course, none of the rumours came to pass, as the duo decimated a Dutch back four containing Virgil van Dijk.
The torture of the Netherlands displayed Mbappé and Griezmann in full flow, while a rock solid defence of Jules Koundé, Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konaté and Theo Hernández makes a goal by Ferguson or any Irish player a genuine achievement to savour.
Marcel Desailly calls them the greatest rearguard France has ever produced – better than Lillian Thuram, Lauret Blanc, Desailly, and Bixente Lizarazu?
“It’s true that it’s an extremely strong defence,” said Deschamps. “Both [Upamecano and Konaté] are very good players but they are helped by having solid players in front of them. If it’s the best of all time, it is hard to say, even over the 10 to 15 years we’ve had some good players. But they have a good understanding after playing for a long time together at Leipzig. They are very strong players and have a very good understanding and can play at a high level for a long time.
“The objective remains the same,” Deschamps continued, “we’re playing a different opponent who have a different system, but the goal remains the same; pose a threat, play as well as we did on Friday. But it was a really demanding game on Friday. We travelled today and it’s important to rest, we’ll have a light session this evening and we’ll see if the players have recovered.”
Coming from elite squads in La Liga, the Premier League, the Bundesliga and Serie A, this squad routinely trip around the continent, playing 270 minutes of domestic and Champions League matches inside seven days. They will recover fine.
Both Mbappé and Deschamps avoided an obvious pitfall that visiting captains and coaches regularly fall into: motivating Irish players and supporters by handing over what they feel is a compliment. No mention of “British style” or Ireland being a physical opponent, except to state that boot and bollock is no longer the primary weapon.
“It’s true that I think Ireland have this enthusiasm, this determination which is part of their football DNA, but that is not everything, they also have quality, they are capable of playing on the ground. You also have to mention the support they have that will push their team forward. I am expecting a high-level match, but the same as Friday, we want to win. They play a different system, this Ireland team, they like to play three at the back.”
Deschamps even remembered some names.
“Ferguson poses a threat, a good player, [Mikey] Johnston as well has joined the team, it is a mix of young and experienced players. But our team is different too, it is hard to compare really. Ireland are known for being direct and vertical in how they play but of what I’ve seen in recent games they are capable of playing the ball along the ground as well. Of course they have a new coach who arrived in 2020 as well.”