The Spanish-French connections of the Battle of Munich

The ‘Bleus’ Antoine Griezmann and Theo Hernández will face Aymeric Laporte, a Frenchman who like them grew up as a player in Spain, where the Barça player Jules Koundé, Real Madrid players Eduardo Camavinga and Aurélien Tchouaméni, whose mother is a Spanish teacher, and in the near future Kylian Mbappé, who also speaks the language of Cervantes, play in Spain. An attractive cocktail that adds even more spice to this battle in Munich for a place in the final on July 14 in Berlin.

Griezmann, essential for Didier Deschamps but largely overshadowed throughout the tournament, is obliged to assume great responsibility for Luis de la Fuente’s ‘family’. The Atlético striker also trained in the Zubieta youth academy, where he arrived at just 14 years of age and where he grew up as a young Basque with Uruguayan influences, especially from his teammate Carlos Bueno.

“In his header, he has the same gestures as Bueno, the same way of using his body. Carlos also taught him the tricks of the trade,” recalls Martín Lasarte, Uruguayan coach of Real Sociedad, quoted in the biography written by Luca Caioli and Cyril Collot ‘Las siete vidas de Grizi’, published in 2017.

The Little Prince’s Latin influence continued when he was recruited by Atlético and he has always said that he feels as comfortable with languages ​​in Spanish as in his native French. He created a strong bond with his coach, the Argentine Diego Simeone, and married Erika, a Spanish woman with whom he has three children with Latin names: Mía, Amaro and Alba.

Like Griezmann, Theo Hernández feels very integrated into the culture of both countries and even admits that he is more comfortable with Spanish. The left-back from France arrived in Madrid at just 12 years old with his brother Lucas, to follow in the footsteps of his father Jean-François Hernández, then a Rayo Vallecano player although he soon signed for Atlético. Three years later, their father disappeared without a trace and the Hernández brothers grew up at Rayo Majadahonda and then at the red-and-white club. Theo signed for Real Madrid but where he has focused and found his prominence is at Milan.

Theo was even contacted by the Spanish Football Federation to play for La Roja, but he always put playing for Les Bleus first. At this European Championship, he scored the decisive penalty that qualified France for the quarter-finals against Portugal. After getting over the shock, he confessed that he was “really scared” before taking the shot.

Laporte and the injury that changed his life

Aymeric Laporte, who is undisputed for Luis de la Fuente and criticised for not arriving at the Euros in good condition, has taken the opposite path. Questions about his enigmatic state after a season away from the spotlight in Saudi football caused some discomfort in the Riojan coach, who went so far as to ask journalists to put an end to this debate.

The former Athletic and Manchester City player was called up by Spain just before Euro 2021, convinced by Luis Enrique and after obtaining Spanish nationality by decision of the Council of Ministers. The challenge, quite complicated, was to make people forget the Sergio Ramos-Gerard Piqué duo. He was a starter until Spain fell in the semi-finals at Wembley against Italy, on penalties.

Before being called up by Spain, Laporte had competed in all of France’s youth categories on more than fifty occasions. He even faced and beat De la Fuente with the French under-19s in the semi-finals of the European Championship held in Lithuania eleven years ago. Only Laporte himself and Rabiot remain from that match. No Spaniards, although if it weren’t for the injury José Gayà would surely have been there.

Julen Lopetegui had already wanted to recruit him, but Didier Deschamps called Laporte up in October 2016. He was left on the bench for one match, but was called up again a month later. He was unable to play against Sweden and the Ivory Coast because his operated right ankle was causing him problems. The moment passed, and he returned in March 2017 for two friendlies, one of them against Spain, but he did not play and disappeared from Deschamps’ plans.

Laporte is once again facing his compatriots, against whom he already lost the Nations League final in 2021, the one where Kylian Mbappé’s controversial goal was conceded by Michael Oliver at San Siro. In the face of doubts about his patriotism, he has always expressed himself along the same lines: maximum respect for his country of origin but pride in representing Spain.

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