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World Cup

Mbappe & Giroud: How France's odd couple went from feuding to firing

08:15 GMT 10/12/2022
Kylian Mbappe Olivier Giroud France 2022 World Cup HIC 16:9
The striking duo haven't always seen eye to eye, but they're proving a match made in heaven at Qatar 2022

It's one of the most iconic images of the 2022 World Cup so far: Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe in a passionate embrace. As many millions were quick to point out online, it looked like a scene from one of those romantic movies where sparks fly as opposites attract.

Giroud and Mbappe are certainly something of an odd couple. Remember, less than a year ago, the pair's relationship appeared on the verge of collapse.

After netting twice in the closing stages of a 3-0 friendly win over Bulgaria on the eve of Euro 2020, Giroud should have been in high spirits. He had just moved within five goals of Thierry Henry's all-time national record. However, the veteran forward wasn't satisfied with the team's overall performance.

"I was a little quiet [in the game] because sometimes you make a run and the balls just don’t arrive," Giroud told L'Equipe du Soir. "I don't pretend to always make the right calls, but I have tried hard to offer solutions in the penalty area."

An innocuous enough complaint in the eyes of the outside world; just another striker complaining about his service. Kylian Mbappe, though, went into Michael Jordan mode: He took Giroud's comments personally.

And it wasn't that he had a major issue with his fellow forward's minor grievance, it was more that Giroud had gone public with his grievance.

"Everyone knows what happened," Mbappe told L'Equipe. "It is true that I was a little affected by it. It is more that he said it publicly than the fact that he said it. I saw him in the dressing room and he didn't say anything to me. But we are not going to make a big deal about it."

It was, of course, too late for that; RMC even claimed that the French Football Federation (FFF) had rejected a request from Mbappe to issue his response in a press conference.

And the Mbappe-Giroud feud became just one of a series of stories about dressing-room discord during France's disastrous European Championship campaign.

That was a source of frustration for Mbappe. He had bigger issues with France's last-16 exit, even threatening to walk away from international football having been left bitterly hurt by the media criticism and racial abuse he received after his missed spot-kick against Switzerland.

"It [the row] dragged on, because people dragged it on," Mbappe lamented last October. "I am going to tell you the truth: that night, I was enraged, but two days later, I was not thinking about it anymore. I had it out with him, I told him what I had to say, and afterwards it was over.

"Certainly, it dragged on in terms of the media, people, there was always this shadow over the head of the team, but it was not a problem for us. I wish him the best, I see that he has started well with AC Milan. And if he comes back to the French national team, I will welcome him with open arms.

"He was very close to breaking Thierry Henry’s record, so it would be a shame if he was not given this possibility."

Those clearly weren't empty words. As so perfectly illustrated by their joyous celebration after Giroud netted his historic 52nd goal for France in the last-16 win over Poland.

Indeed, it felt fitting that it was Mbappe who provided the assist, given the pair have formed such a potent partnership over the past few months that even the injury-enforced withdrawal of Karim Benzema has barely registered.

There are those that disagree, of course. Graeme Souness, for example, has rather harshly claimed that Giroud would not have got anywhere near Henry's record had it not been for Benzema's injuries and issues off the field.

"I'm not his biggest fan," the former Liverpool midfielder told ITV. "Seven games in the last World Cup in the team that won it and he never had a shot on target.

"When you talk about mentioning him in the same breath as Thierry Henry – sorry! I would say his record is there for one reason: Benzema being out for such a long time because of all the controversy he's involved with. Giroud's had a lot of luck in his career."

There may be an element of truth in the claim that Giroud has benefited from Benzema's unavailability for so many years, but to suggest that fortune has played a major role in his career is downright disrespectful.

We're talking about a player who didn't make his Ligue 1 debut until he was 24; he's had to fight to get to where he is today, given he's never been given an easy ride by the press on account of his questionable goals record.

However, Giroud is adored not only by so many of the team-mates he has served for so many years, at Arsenal, Chelsea and Milan, but also those who know the role of a target man inside out.

"Giroud is exceptional," former France international David Trezeguet tells GOAL. "He passed Thierry Henry by scoring an exceptional quantity and quality of goals.

"There’s the technical side and tactical side to his achievement, but mostly it's been about his mentality, which has been so strong. He has always been very criticised by the press and yet he always manages to make a difference. That is incredible, especially when you consider that even before the World Cup, the press were wondering if he should get called up or not.

"We’re talking about a unique player who made the history of this French team and we can’t forget that."

There appears little chance of that now. He has made history and is rightly proud of himself. He is, as he put it after the Poland win, "ageing like a fine wine".

However, he knows that he has to enjoy this moment and not just because this will be his final World Cup, or that it could all come to an end on Saturday, when France face England at the Al Bayt Stadium.

Giroud is acutely and humbly aware that he will not be France's record holder for long.

"Kylian is the best striker I have played with," the 35-year-old said. "We have still not seen the best of him, which is scary, because he is already amazing. I know my records will be broken by him. He is unbelievable."

The feeling is mutual, not at least. Mbappe is revelling playing off a big No.9, his ideal No.9 effectively.

Indeed, Mbappe caused controversy at club level earlier this season by admitting to the press – rather ironically, it has to be said – that he prefers playing for France at the moment because PSG didn't buy him a Giroud-like striker during the summer.

It might be going too far to say that a player of his extraordinary quality needs such a reference point, but he certainly enjoys having one.

This, then, is a mutually beneficial relationship. Mbappe creates goals for Giroud and Giroud creates space for Mbappe. Football's odd couple have gone from feuding to firing France into the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup.

Of course, this unlikely love affair could easily end in heartbreak against England – or yet another passionate embrace in Al-Bayt on Sunday week.