Why does Aymeric Laporte play for France instead of Spain?

Why does Aymeric Laporte play for France instead of Spain?

The Manchester City defender will line up for Spain against Croatia in the Euro 2020 last-16 on Monday, but he could just as easily be playing for France. This is a big deal because it’s been difficult to keep track of who has played where and when during this tournament! Aymeric Laporte should feel lucky that he gets to play with teammate Luka Modric at least one more time before they go their separate ways after next year’s championships.

Basque beginnings

Basque-only Athletic Bilbao’s scouting department is so thorough simply because it has to be. They have to do their best, with the club still operating on a Basques-only policy – something that remains unique in top-level football. With few players eligible for the squad coming out of local academies these days due to parents fleeing during Spain’s Civil War and Francoist regime which banned the use of languages other than Spanish as an expression of national unity; not forgetting many youngsters who left in search for economic opportunity elsewhere or emigration following terrorism attacks since then, they need all hands on deck when it comes time assessing talent from a very young age up until adulthood where scouts are able to track down those elusive kids tied back through the family.

At just 15 years old, Laporte was noticed by Bilbao while playing for his hometown club Agen. However, since he was too young to move at the time, they chose to send him down south and place him in Bayonne who is a sister team located in France’s Basque Country region with more of a rugby heritage than footballing pedigree. It is ironic that their stadium bears the name Didier Deschamps – one of France’s most famous players from the 1998 World Cup victory against Brazil which would play an influential role in Laporte’s international career going forward.

First-team exposure

When he was 16, Laporte moved to Basque Country. At that point in his life, life around him had already been tough and demanding with a strict military upbringing from which there was no escape for this future star of LaLiga Santander.

He found peace within himself on loan at lower league side Basconia where nobody knew who he is because here it didn’t matter if you were an orphan or not; all they cared about what whether one could play football well enough to make up their mind as someone worth keeping on board or letting go – something very different than how things worked back home when your family name would be everything regardless of talent level.

By the time he was 18 he was ready for Marcelo Bielsa’s first-team, breaking into the side under the current Leeds boss and becoming a mainstay in the team for his successor Ernesto Valverde.

He was fitting in and identifying as a Basque player at the most Basque club.

But internationally? Well that was a different story.

The big break that France would regret

Athletic Bilbao was the only club that accepted Laporte in spite of his lack of Spanish descent. In FIFA’s eyes, however, he is French because both his parents are Basque and they had to flee from Spain during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship

Athletic Bilbao wanted a defender with experience but what their president couldn’t find among Spaniards or Italians so when they found who looked like an excellent prospect at Toulouse FC it didn’t matter where Laporte came from; Athletic has always been open-minded about players roots as long as you can play for them.

Laporte happily made his way through the French youth teams from under-17s up to under-21s, and by March 2016 when he was a regular in the Athletic team he was targeting a spot in the France squad for their own European Championships that summer. Then disaster.

Having already attracted transfer interest from Manchester City, Laporte suffered a double fracture of his ankle in an Under-21 European Championship qualifier against Scotland.

Had Deschamps been considering him for the Euros squad then the decision was suddenly taken out of his hands.

The wrangling begins

Ever since Euro 2016, Julen Lopetegui had a feeling that he could make his own team. With no response from Deschamps and the opportunity to be eligible for Spain because of residency status, Laporte took him up on this offer which resulted in being called into France’s national squad shortly after.

Also Read: EURO 2020: UEFA Apologies to Fans over Ticket Cancellations

Laporte failed to feature in either match he was called up for – against Bulgaria and the Netherlands. He angrily returned to Bilbao, no doubt determined to prove that he deserved a place on France’s side over Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti or Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane. His desire for more responsibility led him into his £57million 2018 transfer with Manchester City ̶ suddenly ranking among Europe’s top defenders ̶ but this international future remained unresolved as Deschamps continued not to call upon Laporte amid contentment at center-backs: “I do have three options without counting Marquinhos,” said the coach of PSG midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

The wrong number?

“They didn’t call me. While I don’t want to go over this again, I had sent a message and didn’t get a reply,” Laporte has told The Guardian of his international tug-of-war, which he says has gone on for six years.

“I have it here. Maybe he [Deschamps] changed his number, got a new phone. Could be. I don’t know, but I replied to the same number he’d called from before.

“I didn’t get a reply then.”

Deschamps, for his part, has told reporters that Laporte has been “lying” about the whole thing for years, but the defender remains adamant.

So with France not calling him and another Spain manager, this time Luis Enrique, wanting him for his Euro 2020 squad, he decided to take the plunge.

Both he and the Spanish FA pushed for him to be granted Spanish nationality, which arrived conveniently just before the European Championships.

He was straight in to Enrique’s 24-man squad (he decided he’d prefer that over 26) and then went straight into the team, playing the full 90 minutes in each of Spain’s three group games and scoring in the 5-0 rout over Slovakia.

He’ll start against Croatia on Monday and if Spain win then their likely quarter-final opponents will be… you guessed it, France.

Laporte will definitely play in that one too.

And there’s no doubt it will be personal.