Pep Guardiola rates Aymeric Laporte as “the best left-sided defender in the world” but the 25-year-old is still waiting to make his first international appearance for France.
The Manchester City centre-back's omission every time the international week came around had become so normal that journalists stopped even asking France coach Didier Deschamps about why he kept overlooking him.
Deschamps can at least point to the 2018 World Cup triumph to justify leaving out Laporte. Even without the injured Laurent Koscielny, his squad included some of the best centre-backs in European football - Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti, Presnel Kimpembe of Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille veteran Adil Rami.
Rami and Koscielny’s retirement shortly after Les Bleus’ success opened the door for a return, but Deschamps has an incredible stockpile of emerging centre-backs to choose from, including RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano, Borussia Dortmund’s Dan-Axel Zagadou, Chelsea's Kurt Zouma and Barca’s Clement Lenglet.
Even so, Laporte should be near the front of any queue and, after forming a key part of City’s record-breaking back-to-back title triumphs, he was finally called into the France squad in August only for him to suffer the knee injury that sidelined him for five months.
And his hopes of a recall in spring took a further blow when he was hit with another injury in the Champions League victory over Real Madrid that would have seem him out of contention for the March friendlies with Ukraine and Finland. Those internationals were scrapped because of the coronavirus outbreak and the European Championship has been pushed back 12 months as the continent takes action to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic.
After a nightmare campaign, it should at least give Laporte extra time to force his way into Deschamps’ plans and there are plenty that think the national coach should give City's signing from Athletic Club an opportunity.
“He has the quality to be in the French team, yes,” former City and France defender Bacary Sagna told Goal.
“I didn’t expect him to be so good at City. I knew he was a good player, but he was the main player with De Bruyne [last season], they were just fantastic.
“At the back he is a rock and with the ball he has great ability. He is the type of player you want to have in your team because he’s like a robot. When you tell him to do something, he will do it.
“Technically he is very good, he is very complete.”
Deschamps' decision to recall Laporte in August does at least offer some hope that there has been a thawing of an icy relationship between the pair. There have been suggestions from the national team camp that the defender is aloof and did not integrate with the squad when he was first called up four years ago without playing a single minute.
It’s not a view shared by Guardiola, who admires his man's confidence and quality, but has remained respectful of the French coach’s decision.
Laporte, who was born in Agen in south west France and has represented his country at every level from Under-17 to U21, revealed in February that he had spoken with Deschamps and that he hoped to convince his international boss to be part of his plans this summer before the devastating impact of Covid-19.
“I spoke with Didier Deschamps about coming back for Les Bleus, I am trying to show that I have the qualities to make the French national team,” he told TV channel Telefoot. "Certainly, making the Euros at the end of this [season] would be the best thing.”
He has clearly taken a less confrontational approach than previously. In December 2018, when Deschamps claimed he had enough left-footed defenders, Laporte suggested he had been left out for personal reasons.
“Of course I don't think it's because of a sporting issue, you'd have to ask him personally, I don't have anything personal against him, but if someone has a problem it's him and not me,” he told Basque media outlet ETTB.
“I could be a world champion... but these are the decisions of the coach, who is not calling me for, I think, personal reasons, and I have to respect him.”
Laporte has been a huge miss for City with the Premier League champions nowhere near as solid this season as they have been in their previous two title-winning campaigns. He made four appearances in his comeback, including at Leicester City and Real Madrid, and City didn’t concede a single goal with him on the pitch.
It’s the sort of quality that Guardiola’s side can’t do without. France won the World Cup without Laporte, but his inclusion would surely make them even stronger.