France's 1998 World Cup-winning star talks about Mbappe, France's 2022 World Cup sensation, Giroud and Les Bleus
He might have stopped playing a while ago, but Robert Pires still refers to the French national football team as "we".
So, when France's 1998 World Cup-winning star talks about Kylian Mbappe, France's 2022 World Cup sensation continuing to mesmerize with his speed on the green and skill on the ball, we listen. "Against Poland, he was outstanding," Pires said. "He's come up the good way; he's a great talent, good technique. Of course, everybody can see the speed of Mbappe. I think nobody can stop him-he is so fast. For France, for (Didier) Deschamps, he is very important."
The PSG forward's twin strikes in France's 3-1 win against Poland in the Round of 16 showed the damage he can inflict with a speck of space and time before launching those rockets. He leads the Golden Boot race in Qatar with five goals, and his nine goals in just two World Cup appearances sit alongside Lionel Messi.
Pires sees something different in this 23-year-old Mbappe from the teen that was part of the World Cup-winning team in Russia.
"He's not the same when we won four years ago," Pires, in Mumbai as part of Viacom18's expert panel for the World Cup, said. "He has reached a higher level. He's more mature now, and that's why he is much better."
Add to that maturity a dash of, as Pires likes to call it, stubbornness in focus. It is why Mbappe has shunned any media activities during the World Cup, putting on his blinders while choosing to avoid any outside noise. "When you play with confidence, you can try everything. And it's because he's stubborn, because he wants to be No. 1. He wants to say, 'I'm the No. 1'.
"When I say stubborn, it's about the work; not stubborn in talking with some guys. He is stubborn in his focus. That's why he is stubborn on the field. In the dressing room, I don't care. When he plays in PSG with Neymar, Messi, I think he's fantastic. Especially in France, we are very happy to watch the trio every weekend. For me, for the people in France, it is a joy to watch him at PSG," Pires said. "For me, he is-no, not the No. 1-but one of the best in the world."
From one of the world's best, the conversation steers to France's best in goalscoring records. Pires's face lights up at the mention of Olivier Giroud. "Giroud, my friend," Pires smiled. "He is a very good striker, but totally different from someone like (Karim) Benzema. I know in AC Milan all the players like to play with Giroud. Even Zlatan (Ibrahimovic), so you can imagine!"
The French players certainly like playing with him, and his opening goal against Poland was his 52nd for the national team, breaking Thierry Henry's record. "I'm very happy for him. He deserves this because he is so focused, he believes so much on himself and his quality and he plays for the team. We need a player like Olivier Giroud," Pires said. "I spoke with him this (Monday) morning, and he told me it's like a dream. When he started, he told me, 51 is too far. And now, he is number one."
Pires recalled a chat with Giroud after Les Bleus lifted the trophy four years ago. "He told me, yeah we won, but I didn't score. He was a little bit disappointed," Pires said. "Today, he has scored goals, he has broken the record and I hope he lifts the trophy."
No team has managed to defend its title in six decades. However, Pires reckons this France bunch not only has more experience from four years ago but also greater resolve. "We're stronger now on the head, especially the mentality. We're focused on this target," Pires said, adding injury setbacks to key players like Benzema has failed to disrupt the French optimism.
Pires likened France's quarter-final test against England to a rugby contest, "very, very tough". And is licking his lips at the prospect of one particular battle."England and France are very similar. They play 4-3-3 too. We have great talent, so does England. They have good quality, good skills, players who run fast with the ball. Maybe not like Mbappe, but players like Foden, Saka are very good. And I want to see the face-off (between) Mbappe vs Walker. Just for the speed. It should be electric."
By Rutvick Mehta
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