As the French players huddled together to celebrate Adrien Rabiot’s equalising goal against Australia, there was an embrace between the Juventus midfielder and France’s superstar forward Kylian Mbappe.
To many, the scene may have appeared to be a straightforward moment of relief after the World Champions fell behind in their World Cup opening match. Yet to those who have followed this dramatic French national team in recent years, it was a sign of harmony.
At the European Championship last year, the French exit in the final 16 of the competition was mired in controversy. France lost on penalties against Switzerland, with Mbappe missing the decisive penalty.
That would have been damaging enough for Mbappe, but then strife exploded in remarkable fashion in the smart seats. As some of his team-mates including Paul Pogba and Moussa Sissoko consoled Mbappe, television footage revealed Veronique Rabiot, mother of Adrien, appearing to let Mbappe’s parents know his spot kick was poor.
“It is embarrassing how he struck that, for a player of his level. He hit it too lightly. I hope you are going to scold him,” Madame Rabiot told Wilfried Mbappe, father of Kylian. She had also criticised Pogba for conceding possession in central midfield. For Mbappe, it was the culmination of a troubling tournament in which he failed to score.
He experienced issues with other team-mates, including striker Olivier Giroud, who had complained in a pre-tournament press conference that players such as Mbappe had failed to spot his runs. Mbappe wanted to publicise a response in a press conference of his own before being talked out of it.
At Mbappe’s club Paris Saint-Germain, those close to the team’s dressing room felt something changed in Mbappe after the first major disappointment of his career at international level. His confidence was affected by the criticism he received during the tournament. For several weeks, his mood was reserved.
When he returned to PSG for the beginning of the 2021-22 season, he was briefly booed during a fixture at PSG’s home Parc Des Princes stadium, with media reports attributing the fan response partially to speculation about his future but also due to his poor performances for France at the Euros.
Mbappe’s faith in the national team setup dimmed. In June, during an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, the French Football Federation’s president Noel Le Graet said: “I met with him after the Euros, he felt the federation had not defended him after his missed penalty and the criticism on the (social) networks. We met for five minutes in my office. He was angry. He didn’t want to play for the French team anymore — which he obviously didn’t mean.”