Arsenal's William Saliba is "among the best centre-backs in the Premier League " according to Kylian Mbappe.

Yet the Real Madrid forward's conviction is at loggerheads with that of France national team head coach Didier Deschamps. Saliba, 23, has established himself as one of Arsenal's most consistent and reliable defenders recently, having made 50 appearances for the Gunners in all competitions last season.

Yet, the faith afforded the French centre-back by Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has not translated to the national team set-up. Saliba has won just 12 caps for France, with Bayern Munich defender Dayot Upamecano, Barcelona's Jules Kounde, Inter Milan's Benjamin Pavardand Liverpool's Ibrahima Konaté often preferred over him.

Deschamps has been forthright in his criticism of the defender, who looked laggard in a pre-Euro friendly against Canada earlier this week.

Back in March, Deschamps explained Saliba's lack of game time with Les Bleus, stating: "He is having a good season, but he also does things that I don’t like so much. For France, he has limited game time, but when he plays, that hasn’t necessarily gone well.

"The hierarchy doesn’t favour him at the moment, but he is here. Dayot Upamecano has had game time and perhaps William has had less. With certain players, I make sure to persevere, because it can be confidence or little blockages that can shift. Some don’t have any concerns, some need game time. William has had less game time, so that doesn’t allow him to be very calm."

Yet, long-time friend Mbappe believes that Saliba's circumstances can change given the player's quality.

“This season, he has become a very important player for Arsenal and is among the best centre-backs in the Premier League. He is starting to get minutes with us. It’s now up to him to find his place. For me, he has all the qualities to, in time, be a starter with Les Bleus,” the France captain told Ouest-France.

Mbappe, 25, has known Saliba for a long time, having attended the same primary school in Bondy and Mbappe's dad training Saliba while the two played for AS Bondy.

“I have known him since he was very, very young," he said. "We played football together on our breaks, even though we weren’t in the same year, but he asked to play with us. We allowed it because he was already big!"

"I am three years older than him so I saw him grow up by following his journey and his games closely. Seeing him in the national team, going from Bondy to Les Bleus, made me really happy. I tried to integrate him into the group as quickly as possible."

He added: “I look at his journey with the pride of an older brother. There is no taboo between us and we tease each other. For example, I often tell him that he wants to be the star of Bondy, but that it will never happen!”

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2024-06-13T15:02:49Z dg43tfdfdgfd