Sunday, October 17

Aymeric Laporte from Spain: ‘People can say what they want, I don’t care. I’m here ‘| Spain

“I We come from a very small and humble French town, ”says Spain’s first-choice central defender. Aymeric Jean Louis Gérard Alphonse Laporte leans back in a big red chair and remembers how the “dream” he repeatedly mentions came true, if not exactly the way you envisioned it, and forward to what’s to come next. He talks about the journey that brought him here with a frankness and determination that helps explain it all. “I am very happy, enjoying every moment,” he says.

It is the morning after Laporte appeared before his teammates from Spain and sang a track by Stromae, a complete initiation into the group. More importantly, that came after the 27-year-old jumped over Slovakia’s defense to score his first international goal in his fourth game. That is part of the reason why they are here preparing for Spain’s meeting with Croatia in Copenhagen. Win that and … “And then it could be France, yeah,” he says, audibly applying a full stop.

When the ball landed on him, Laporte admits to thinking “this might be the moment”, but the most important way he tells it was by analyzing the scene as it unfolded, his header – “a balloon” – hovering over Martin Dubravka and sending him running towards the touchline, screaming. “Go!“Remember. “Go, and an expletive I shouldn’t say. “

Aymeric Laporte celebrates after scoring for Spain against Slovakia in Euro 2020.
Aymeric Laporte celebrates after scoring for Spain against Slovakia in Euro 2020. Photography: Pablo García

What’s in a word? Many things, says Laporte. “Above all, the desire I had to compete at this level, to be where I am, enjoying every day with this great selection. Fruit of 22 years of work, perseverance, objectives. One of my dreams came true, which is where that happiness and fury came from. A desire to show the fans that I am here to help, to contribute, not to take anything away. ” The need was natural: Laporte had only been with the Spanish team for three weeks; He had only been Spanish for five, nationality was given to him by discretionary decree of the government.

Born in Agen, Aquitaine, where his mother was a hairdresser and his father worked in a supermarket, Laporte had previously played 51 times for France’s junior ranks, captaining in the under-17, under-18, under-19 and under-categories. twenty-one. Three times he had been called up to the senior team, but he never played. Against Bulgaria and the Netherlands in October 2016, he stayed in the stands; against Albania and Andorra in August 2019, he was injured. In March 2017, he sat on the bench against Spain. Then, on June 4, 2021, he finally made his international debut, with Spain.

“They called me from Federation. The president told me about his interest. Immediately after, Luis Enrique called. I made the decision. Then came my dual nationality. “Said like that, it was quick and easy. But as Laporte says, that’s the short version.” I was in contact with him. Spanish selection for years because they have always loved me. “

He had first approached him to look for a Spanish passport in 2016, when Julen Lopetegui was a coach. If Didier Deschamps was not always convinced, Laporte was a perfect fit in Spain.

“Luis Enrique told me that my style of play is his idea of ​​football, that if he got nationality he could be in the squad. We talked and I told him that it is obviously very important for me, for my projection. This is something I always wanted. Playing at the highest level in an international tournament is important for any player. I said I was interested. There is paperwork and all that [but] we find the formula “.

Did you tell France? They had called before, after all. “Six years earlier,” Laporte responds. And in 2019. “Oh yeah, well. No. They didn’t call me. And although I don’t want to talk about this again, I sent a message and got no response. “Deschamps had implied that he never received that message, sent six months earlier after Laporte’s injury, and that it would be a” lie “to suggest that he had ignored the player. Laporte picks up his phone: “I’ve got it here,” he says. “I’m not showing you, but I am. Maybe he changed his number, got a new phone. Could be. I don’t know. But I answered the same number at who had called before. “

Did you get two blue ticks? Laporte smiles. “It wasn’t WhatsApp.”

“So I didn’t get an answer,” he continues. “And anyway, given everything that happened, I also didn’t think it was important enough to France to have to inform them of anything. My importance to them has been more a matter of means than anything else. I’ve always been very clear that I’m going to be with those who love me, not with those who don’t. I am not saying that France did not love me, but I am grateful to those who ‘bet’ on me. Spain did it and I am trying to restore that faith.

“It was not an easy decision at all. My family still lives in France and from a very young age I played there with the national team. There were family talks, discussions, exchange of opinions, the same doubts that there would be if you had dual nationality, I imagine. ‘I feel this‘, ‘you feel what‘. We all have different feelings. I felt comfortable coming with Spain, fully identified. That’s what made me change everything. Also, my family has not been in Spain for eight years. like me.”

Laporte had played for Sporting Union Agen, for the representative team of Aquitaine and Aviron Bayonnais before joining Athletic across the border at age 15, alone. His experience of Spain, he says, had previously been limited to school trips and family vacations near Malaga, at the age of five or six.

Aymeric Laporte fights Luis Suárez during Athletic's Copa del Rey in Barcelona in May 2015.
Aymeric Laporte fights Luis Suárez during Athletic’s Copa del Rey in Barcelona in May 2015. Photograph: Lluis Gene / AFP / Getty Images

It was not always easy, but he advanced quickly, a technical central defender trained since then by Marcelo Biesla, Ernesto Valverde, Pep Guardiola and now Luis Enrique, who insists: “having the ball at your feet is wonderful.” At Athletic, a club with exclusively Basque criteria that he fulfilled through an uncle and aunt on his father’s side and by playing for the Aviron Bayonnais feeder club, he also received an early introduction to some of those identity issues that reappear now .

“If I am happy, as I am now, people can say what they want; it doesn’t affect me much, ”he says. “It also happened in Athletic, where there were also more people in favor than against. I felt everyone’s support and I felt very comfortable. People who treat this as if it were so, so important have other objectives ”.

What goals “I do not know. Think about it yourself. It is not necessary to decide anything. ‘I feel this’, ‘I feel that’. No. I’m sorry for both. I’ve been here for eight years. “If people say you’re a ‘signing’, how does that make you feel? This time the response is sharp. ‘They can say what they want, I don’t care. I’m here. I’m happy.”

In addition, if Laporte is a signing, it is superb, a quality jump that was quickly integrated, although that was more difficult after the forced stop by Sergio Busquets when catching Covid, so it took him three weeks to sing before them. “We hardly saw each other, even less did we touch,” says Laporte. “You also have that fear, you doubt: you are ‘on alert’. But we’ve gotten over it and it’s been natural for me. It’s like I’ve been here 10 years.

Aymeric Laporte in the training camp of Spain.
Aymeric Laporte in the training camp of Spain. “They welcomed me from the beginning,” he says of his new colleagues. Photography: Pablo García

“They welcomed me from the beginning. I already knew most of them. I had played them, so there are stories, jokes. I met Unai Simón from Athletic. Four of us are from [Manchester] Town. We have played in Barcelona a thousand times. [César] Azpilicueta: many times ”. He has also faced Adama Traoré and José Luis Gayá, for the French U-17 against Spain. Now, they are all on the same team, preparing to face Croatia on Monday. And then maybe France.

“I don’t know what it would be like [facing them]; exciting, sure, ”he says. And wanting to win. I always wish them the best, but that’s the way it is. Us first, then them. “

Deep down, would you prefer Switzerland? “I don’t prefer anyone. To tell the truth, I like to face the best, compete to win… I come from a very small, humble French town, from a humble family. I know where I come from and where I am. And being here is a step again, the top, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to compete at the highest level ”.

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