Going into the World Cup, Olivier Giroud had prepared himself for a supersub role.
After all, France now boasted the Ballon d’Or winner, Karim Benzema, as their starting striker.
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Yet one thigh injury to the Real Madrid star later and Les Bleus, much like an ex who simply cannot quit a former flame, turned to Giroud with gleaming puppy dog eyes.
The 36-year-old, who has aged as fine as a wine from a pristine Bordeaux vineyard, happily obliged and has gone on to eclipse Thierry Henry as France’s all-time top goalscorer.
In fact, he has four goals to his name from five appearances in Qatar and is just one victory away from winning back-to-back World Cups, a feat not achieved in 60 years.
Of course, France’s return to the big dance four-and-a-half years later after the 2018 triumph isn’t solely down to the all-round game of the AC Milan striker, but it has played a significant part.
It does, however, quash former France winger Jerome Rothen’s pre-tournament claim made on RMC that “France would have been stronger with Benzema in the team than with Giroud” against the heavyweight nations.
Granted, Giroud’s Indian summer will eventually come to and end.
But having been discarded by two Premier League heavyweights only to enjoy a career resurgence in Italy and with the national team, he’s determined not to let that sun set anytime soon.
Or at least not until France are back-to-back World Cup winners.
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THE DOCUMENTARY THAT SAID IT ALL
For quite some time, the French public wasn’t exactly fond of Giroud.
Neither was former France manager Raymond Domenech.
That was no more audible than during a friendly between France and Cameroon in May ahead of Euro 2016.
Giroud was named in Deschamps’ starting lineup that day, flanked by Kingsley Coman and Dimitri Payet on the left and right respectively.
With the European Championships that year also taking in France, expectation was high amongst fans.
But they were not so supportive of Giroud, with the crowd in Nantes booing him when he was subbed off despite scoring France’s second goal that day.
The day after the game, French publication L’Equipe had Giroud’s face plastered on their front page
The headline read, ‘Le Mal Aime’.
The translation of the headline is the same as the title of a documentary centred around Giroud by L’Equipe released in 2017.
The title of that documentary?
It’s not just on the international level where Giroud struggled to convince fans of his worth.
The Frenchman is perhaps best known for his five-and-a-half year stint with Arsenal.
Arriving at the Emirates after winning Ligue 1 with Montpellier in 2011/12 on the back of scoring 21 league goals, Giroud scored 11 times in the English top flight in his debut season.
It wasn’t exactly the goal haul some fans had expected but a season’s grace was given as Giroud acclimated to the Premier League.
He scored 16 goals, then 14, then 16 again in the following three seasons but never found those goalscoring heights again.
Giroud was a man that often divided opinion amongst the Emirates faithful and former England international Stan Collymore believes it was to something completely out of the Frenchman’s control.
“When you have had a diet of players such as Dennis Bergkamp, Ian Wright and Henry at your club, and Robin van Persie as well, compared to their matchwinner effect, he didn’t have that at Arsenal,” Collymore told The Mirror.
“That meant they looked at him and thought ‘he’s a poor man’s Wright, RVP and Bergkamp’, when in reality as a player he was always 7/10.
“At the end of his career, we will probably say his achievements have been 8/10 or 9/10, but as an individual, he was probably a 7/10.
“There’s nothing wrong with that and he has had a fantastic career, no doubt.”
Giroud eventually moved on from Arsenal in 2018 and in the time that has passed, Gunners fans have taken a kinder view on the forward’s 180-game spell at the club.
After all, he left Arsenal with three FA Cup winner’s medals in his luggage.
And in the following years since, he’s had to make room for a few other bits of gold along the way.
HOW THE GO-KART PROVED MORE VALUABLE THAN AN F1 CAR
The 2018 World Cup was immensely successful for France as they emerged as the last team standing, winning their first World Cup in 20 years.
Giroud was tasked with leading the line and did so with aplomb.
That is, if you don’t consider the fact he failed to register a single shot on target in Russia, let alone score a goal.
It was as if the 10 other players on the park won the World Cup that year, with Giroud almost an incidental part in victory.
But his individual tournament was characterised by the unselfish traits that make him a dream to play alongside which have returned once again in Qatar.
And doesn’t he know how to create them.
Whether it’s a late run to nip in front of a defender, his trademark darts to the near post or bullying opposition defenders, Giroud has showcased his full range of ability in the four goals he has scored.
But they haven’t just been any old goals.
His first of the tournament, scored against Australia, brought him level with Thierry Henry as France’s all-time top goalscorer on 51 goals.
Then Giroud elbowed a fellow former Gunner out of the way with a double against Poland for goals No. 52 and 53.
Of course, he had to add a winner against England in the quarter final for No. 54.
Despite breaking the record, the headlines in Qatar, much like the did in Russia, have centred around Giroud’s teammate Kylian Mbappe.
Yet that’s how Giroud has often gone about his business.
“Now, in his twilight, this may finally be his moment to step out of the shade.”
Of course, Giroud’s opportunity to shine in Qatar didn’t come about thanks to goalscoring form that made him the first name on the team sheet.
Rather, it was an injury to Benzema, the striker that famously branded himself a Formula One car and Giroud a go-kart in March 2020, that paved the way for the latter to play as much as he has.
Yet, as Anka noted, “there is a reason why go-karting trips are often used as team bonding sessions.”
“Giroud is a striker for the collective.”
It is his role as the ultimate teammate that has France on the verge of glory once again.
Giroud is clearly not the sole reason behind it, but without him, you wonder if Les Bleus would have flourished just as much.