|Olivier Giroud is the toast of France. — AFP Photo|
Va-va-voom, Thierry Henry. One of (take it easy, Erling), if not the best (sorry, Alan) strikers in Premier League history. A player who would individually boost attendances at away grounds and light up football for a decade. A dead cert for the front cover of any year’s edition of FIFA in a generation that boasted the likes of Ronaldinho and cult hero Batistuta. Box office we can all agree on. Golden Boot? Yes, a few. All-time leading goalscorer? For Arsenal: again, yes. For France? Not anymore. That honour now belongs to none other than Olivier Giroud.
It feels strange to start this piece by discussing another player, but that’s so often the case when talking about the man who ‘should’ve been a model’ and didn’t make his international debut until the age of 25. The much-maligned, regularly overlooked and occasionally mocked centre forward has seemingly always been in the shadows of his national compatriots.
Henry, Mbappe (understandably, as football’s new megastar), and even (for a short time) Andre Pierre Gignac have all been preferred up top for Les Bleus. Despite having now broken this record – indisputably being the most prolific goalscorer for his country – this was also the case going into the World Cup.
Karim Benzema at 34 – an age we assume the magic for most forwards will have begun to fade – has won football’s most prestigious individual prize, the Ballon d’Or. Again, Giroud would have expected to find himself on the bench until Real Madrid’s talisman pulled out of the tournament through injury.
When we talk about ageing French players as commentators, it's all too easy to mention fine wines. But Giroud is a wine that even the most respected purveyors often leave on football’s conversational shelf.
However, like a classic red when it comes to the actual meal, he can always be relied upon to leave your guests satisfied. This, remember, is a player who has won the Puskas award for the flair and audacity of his scorpion-like effort in 2017.
Some may even say he accentuates the flavours around him. That's certainly the feeling in France right now, where it's thought that while Benzema is the superior individual player, it's Giroud who makes France more effective.
It is undeniably amusing that Giroud managed to perform for France during their 2018 triumph without registering a successful effort on target. Nonetheless, it is his selfless approach which makes him the perfect foil for France’s real main man: Kylian Mbappe.
His hard work from the front has allowed Griezmann to be utilised behind the striker – in the absence of Kante and Pogba – and free up a central component of this French machine. Sometimes, too many cooks really do spoil the broth, and this seems to be the case with France.
In a team known for being undone by the size and inevitable clashing together of its egos in the planetary orbit of the World Cup, having an experienced, calm and collected presence leading from the front is making France a more dangerous proposition than was perhaps expected.
When the list of their injuries and subsequent squad omissions was announced, I – along with the fans and managers of other nations – was pleased. It’s this unusually quiet confidence from France that I find most intimidating going into this weekend’s quarterfinal tie. I hope for England’s sake that Giroud is like vinegar, France’s performance is undercooked, and their 2022 World Cup party is ruined.