Aymeric Laporte is the only Manchester City outfield player to have played every minute of Premier League and Champions League action so far this season, and he has emerged as one of the best centre-backs in England, if not the best.
Yet his last France call-up came in March 2017 and he has never been capped by his country. That fact has never looked stranger than when Didier Deschamps called upon Adil Rami and Mamadou Sakho to help fill the gap left by the injured Samuel Umtiti.
There had been some doubt around Laporte’s intentions, given he is also eligible to play for Spain, but ahead of City’s opening Champions League game, against Lyon in September, he confirmed that he is determined to play for France.
But he added: “As for whether I go or not, it does not depend on me, but the coach.”
That is the crux of the matter: Laporte and Deschamps do not get on.
When France’s squad was announced earlier in November, L’Equipe ran a story saying that the 24-year-old’s ongoing absence is due to the fact he is a withdrawn character who does not mix particularly well with team-mates.
“He does not engage with the group,” claimed Pierre Mankowski, Laporte’s coach in France’s youth teams. “He is a loner. When he communicates, it may seem awkward, because he has a great perception of his value and he shows it.
"In the end, he’s a good pro who has trouble integrating into the group.”
There is a sense, the report says, that he is a little too sure of himself. Antoine Griezmann is named as one player who does not seem to get on with the former Athletic Club defender, and it is said that Deschamps does not want to destabilise the atmosphere in the squad.
Sources close to the City dressing room indicate that Laporte can indeed come across as aloof, if not just plain arrogant.
Yet at the same time he has made friends in the City squad, and his performances on the pitch – and those of his team-mates – have proven that any negative character traits are hardly disruptive.
Laporte does not believe he will be called up any time soon, and friends of his say he is being overlooked because he does not have any kind of relationship with Deschamps.
That much was suggested when Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Adrien Rabiot was omitted from France’s World Cup squad earlier this year. Rabiot posted an open letter to Instagram, insisting the decision was not based upon any “sporting logic”. Laporte liked the post and applauded it with several emojis.
Lettre ouverte : Je me doutais du retentissement qu'aurait ma décision, mais je déplore d'être caricaturé comme un jeune joueur immature incapable de mesurer la portée de ses actes. Footballeur, c'est mon métier mais le football c'est d'abord ma passion. Pour me hisser au plus haut niveau j'ai travaillé encore et encore. Tout ce que j'ai aujourd'hui je l'ai gagné sur le terrain. Et puis j'ai un rêve, comme tous les footballeurs, c'est jouer pour mon pays. Porter le maillot bleu est pour moi un honneur, une fierté. Gagner avec la France, gagner pour la France, est une mission. Depuis l'âge de 15 ans j'ai défendu les couleurs de la France dans toutes les catégories de jeunes, jusqu'à atteindre l'équipe A. J'ai la culture France. Aussi, je n'autorise personne à parler en mon nom de ma relation avec l'Équipe de France. Depuis ma première convocation en A, en tant que réserviste en mai 2016, j'ai joué avec mon club, le PSG, un grand d'Europe, 88 matchs dont 13 en Ligue des Champions, marqué 9 buts et j'ai été récompensé par sept trophées. Si j'ai décidé de me retirer de la liste des suppléants, c'est que je considère que le choix du sélectionneur à mon égard ne répond à aucune logique sportive car depuis toutes ces années le message était clair, ce sont les performances en club qui ouvrent les portes de l'Équipe de France. Je suis un compétiteur sans état d'âme, mais je suis aussi un homme, et à ce titre j'aurais aimé être considéré comme tel. Ma démarche ne vise en rien les joueurs sélectionnés. Et je remercie Monsieur Le Graët, le président de la Fédération, d'avoir souligné l'exemplarité de mon comportement en sélection ces huit dernières années. Enfin, j'assume et j'assumerai toutes les conséquences de mon choix avec le soutien de ma famille et de mes proches.
Deschamps, of course, is due plenty of credit for striking a good balance and guiding his country to the World Cup this summer, particularly given the fact talented France squads have imploded in 2002 and 2010, and that all of their expected challengers fell well short in Russia.
Still, Laporte's continued omission is puzzling. It cannot be that his age counts against him, as Deschamps is not afraid to bring in young players; in Russia, he deployed Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, both 22, as his full-backs.
Lyon duo Ferland Mendy, 23, and Tanguy Ndombele, 21, were called up for the recent games against Uruguay and the Netherlands, but at centre-back Deschamps turned to the inconsistent Rami, 32, and Sakho, 28, who has in no tangible way out-performed Laporte this season.
Given Deschamps is doggedly committed to playing a left-footer and a right-footer together in the heart of his defence, you would imagine Laporte is the ideal choice, especially with Umtiti injured.
Indeed, a large part of the reason why he has played every big game for City this season is because he is left-footed.
“Especially because he is left-footed playing on the left side," Guardiola said recently. "He gives us an alternative for the build-up, quicker and faster than the other ones who are right-footed. With the right foot, it is a little bit more complicated.”
Not every manager would look for the same criteria in a centre-back as Guardiola but given Deschamps is so keen to have a left-footer in his side it is clear that there is more to Laporte's absence than form and fitness.
Perhaps there is a sense among the decision makers that Laporte is more Spanish than he is French, as if that should matter.
He had previously flirted with playing for Spain, given he joined Athletic as a teenager and qualifies as Spanish (Basque) through his grandparents. He is just as comfortable speaking Spanish as he is French and his closest friends in the City squad are Spanish speakers.
The fact the story outlining his supposed personality flaws appeared in the country’s main sports newspaper a day before the most recent France squad was announced did raise eyebrows among those close to the player.
Laporte knows he will have an opportunity to show what he can do in his homeland on Tuesday night, and in the months before international football returns in March with the start of the European Championship qualifiers.
But then, it is not quite as simple as that.