France: William Saliba wins over Didier Deschamps to start Euro 2024 opener after late U-turn

France: William Saliba wins over Didier Deschamps to start Euro 2024 opener after late U-turn

Arsenal defender William Saliba is set to start for France on Monday evening, after a late U-turn by Didier Deschamps.

Deschamps has been reluctant to play Saliba, despite his brilliant form for Arsenal, but L'Equipe reported on Monday morning that he will partner Dayot Upamecano in defence.

Saliba has made a late charge to gatecrash the team for France's Euros opener after excelling in the final warm-up game, against Canada, this month. The centre-back was a rare bright spark during the 0-0 draw, misplacing just four of his 76 passes and winning all five of his aerial duels.

It is nonetheless still a surprise that Deschamps is set to give him the nod tonight as, since handing Saliba his debut in March 2022, he has repeatedly overlooked him. Indeed, France have had 27 matches since then and Saliba has started just seven of them.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

That run included a difficult World Cup in Qatar for the defender, where he played just 27 minutes off the bench.

Deschamps has been vocal in his doubts around Saliba and in March said how the defender "does things that I don't like so much" when quizzed about his lack of minutes, despite shining for Arsenal.

"For France he has limited game time, but when he plays that hasn't necessarily gone well," said Deschamps. "With certain players, I make sure to persevere, because it can be confidence or little blockages that can shift."

Deschamps has been just as ruthless with his actions, and in September 2022 he hooked Saliba off at half-time with France losing 2-0 against Denmark. It was nearly a year before the Gunners man started another game.

Deschamps has always been a big believer in experience, and that partly explains why Saliba has been overlooked.

The French boss's tactical philosophy is also very much a safety-first approach, which is not necessarily in keeping with the way Saliba plays.

The 23-year-old is bold in possession, perhaps partly because he began his youth career as a striker, while he also backs his pace and power to get himself out of tight situations.

At times, such a way of playing can be risky and it does not feel in keeping with Deschamps — but it appears he is being won over. Saliba did the same at Arsenal and it should not be forgotten he spent three years out on loan before becoming a star player at Emirates Stadium.

There were doubts as to whether Saliba would break into the team under Mikel Arteta and, as well as being loaned out, he spent time training with Arsenal's Under-23s.

"It gave me a good slap," Saliba later admitted in an interview with French broadcaster RMC Sport.

Saliba has bounced back from that and last season he played every single minute in the Premier League. He has established himself as one of the best centre-backs in the world with his club performances and now he wants to do the same with France.

Saliba has been backed to shine by his team-mates, including captain Kylian Mbappe — who is expected to be fit to start tonight, despite missing some training sessions.

"We played football together on our breaks [at school], even though we weren't in the same year," Mbappe told French newspaper Ouest-France. "Seeing him now in the national team, going from Bondy to Les Bleus, made me really happy. I tried to integrate him into the group as quickly as possible.

"This season, he has become a very important player for Arsenal and is among the best centre-backs in the Premier League. "He is starting to get minutes with us. It's now up to him to find his place. For me, he has all the qualities to, in time, be a starter with Les Bleus."