It is a quiz question that would surely force even the biggest of football anoraks to pause for thought. Who was France’s main central striker when they last won the World Cup in 1998? Leading scorer Thierry Henry? Perhaps Christophe Dugarry? Or was there some sort of system that allowed Zinedine Zidane or Youri Djorkaeff to function together efficiently at the tip?
There was, but the answer is that France’s greatest team was still spearheaded in attack by a player in Stephan Guivarc’h who finished the tournament without even one single goal.
France return to the semi-finals against Belgium tomorrow and, while the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba stand as the potential superstar heirs to Zidane, Henry and Djorkaeff, the most striking parallel is to another undroppable striker who cannot currently score.
Olivier Giroud might have begun this World Cup on the bench but, from the moment he came on in France’s opening match against Australia, Didier Deschamps has been unmoved. Giroud starts. Not for the goals he himself is likely to contribute, but for how just his presence creates space for others and allows his team to play with a crucial variety.
“He is important for our style; we need this supporting play,” said Deschamps. “It’s good if he scores but Olivier Giroud is always very generous. He might not have the flamboyant style but the team needs him in each and every match for his game in the air and how he defends. He does many things and it is the players around him who benefit. He attracts a lot of attention from the defenders near to him.”
Giroud’s two most recent clubs managers, Arsene Wenger and Antonio Conte, will be nodding their heads in agreement. Both have at different times left him on the bench in an attempt to introduce a different style but have invariably also always turned back to him.
He has now gone 380 minutes in this tournament without a goal – and only seven shots – and yet there is still no real debate in France about who should start tomorrow in St Petersburg against Belgium.
Giroud himself is clearly conscious of his goalscoring record but, while every player will dutifully tell you that it is the team rather than their own individual record which counts, he backs that ethos up with how he plays in each and every game.
“I always try to choose the best option for the team,” says Giroud. “I think when France were world champions in 1998, Dugarry score one and Guivarc’h not at all. If we are World Cup winners without me scoring, I don’t mind. If I’m on the pitch, it means the boss thinks I can help the team.”
Guivarc’h would ultimately move to Newcastle United on the back of his 1998 World Cup contribution but was promptly sold that same year after scoring only one goal. The Daily Mail once listed him as “the worst striker in Premier League history”.
No one would ever say that about Giroud, already a four-time FA Cup winner with Arsenal and Chelsea, and there is also still time to separate himself from Guivarc’h in the momentous week that now awaits. “I keep the goals for the semi-final and maybe the final,” added Giroud.