Laporte's Journey

How and why the City defender traded international blue for the red of Spain

Few would argue Aymeric Laporte doesn’t deserve the opportunity to play international football on a regular basis.

It won’t have been an easy decision to leave his dream of representing France in a major competition behind, but ultimately. one he felt he should take.

Laporte has rarely put a foot wrong since joining City in 2018 and is rightly regarded as one of Europe’s best defenders – yet at 27, he had still not been capped by the French national team.

He had represented and captained Les Bleus at Under-17, Under-18, Under-19 and Under-21 level on more than 50 occasions, and it seemed a matter of when rather than if he would win his first full cap.

But as various French squads were announced over the past few years, to City fans at least, his name continued to be a glaring omission.

He isn’t the first player to switch nationalities (Declan Rice and Jack Grealish both represented Ireland) and he won’t be the last, but for Spain, it is a major coup.

Representing Spain promises to be a smooth process for Laporte, given his links with the country.

Laporte moved to Athletic Bilbao aged 16 and would spend eight happy years with the Basque club.

In fact, Bilbao’s strict ruling on Basque players was extended to allow Laporte's inclusion, with his great grandparents hailing from the Spanish region that borders and crosses into France.

The only French player to have previously played for Bilbao was Bixente Lizarazu , but so highly was the teenage Laporte rated that he became the second player to be admitted to the club through family ties.

He joined in 2010 and from 2012 onwards, was a first team regular for the La Liga side, making 222 appearances for them and being handed his debut by current Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa.

In 2016, City reportedly made a strong attempt to sign Laporte – then 22 – but he elected to stay with Bilboa and continue to learn his trade in Spain.

Laporte reportedly indicated that if he didn’t win selection for Euro 2016, he would consider playing instead for Spain, but was called up to the senior squad for the games against Lithuania and the Netherlands, though he didn’t feature in either game.

In January 2018, however, Pep Guardiola finally got his man and Laporte made his debut against West Brom.

In 2018/19, Laporte was superb as he clocked up 51 appearances for a City that completed a domestic clean sweep of the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Community Shield.

He was voted in the PFA Team of the Year that season, but a serious knee injury at the start of the 2019/20 campaign ruled him out for several months and many put City’s unsuccessful title defence down to Laporte’s lengthy absence.

If he was ever going to be selected for France, it was surely around that time, but sadly, we will never know.

Last season, injuries and the form of John Stones and Ruben Dias restricted Laporte to 27 appearances in all competitions, but he has clocked up 111 appearances for City to date and won eight trophies in three-and-a-half seasons at the Etihad.

But while France continued to overlook the City defender, Spain were very keen on securing his services and made it known to Laporte that he would be a part of their plans for Euro 2020 and no doubt the 2022 World Cup.

Spain had been interested in Laporte since 2014, and pulling on the red jersey of La Roja will not feel alien to him. He has Basque blood in his DNA, lived in Bilbao for eight years and speaks fluent Spanish.

In May of this year, he put a line under his long wait to represent France at senior level when the Spanish Council of Ministers granted him Spanish nationality. The process had been initiated on his behalf by the Royal Spanish Football Federation and FIFA approved the change of nationality a few days later making him available for selection for the Spain Euro 2020 squad which was duly rubber-stamped shortly after.

On June 4, Laporte made his international debut, helping Spain keep a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Portugal in a friendly with a typically assured performance.

It’s fair to assume that Aymeric Laporte would have probably have won upwards of 60 caps by now for the majority of top football nations had things gone differently – but that is just conjecture - the bottom line is he deserves the chance to play international football and he will have the added bonus of familiarity with La Liga players plus City team-mates Ferran Torres, Rodrigo and Eric Garcia within the Spain squad.

Spain kick off their Euro 2020 tournament against Sweden on Monday evening and Laporte will no doubt be determined to show that La Roja’s gain, is very much Les Bleus’ loss…