Olivier Giroud scored his 41st and 42nd international goals in France’s 7-1 win over Ukraine this week, matching and then surpassing the legendary Michel Platini’s tally for Les Bleus.
Giroud has been gradually moving past France’s all-time greats for the past few years.
In 2017, he went ahead of Karim Benzema when he got his 28th France goal. He then bettered Just Fontaine and Jean-Pierre Papin in May 2018 with his 31st. His 32nd in September 2018 saw him go ahead of Zinedine Zidane and in March 2019 his 35th was one better than David Trezeguet.
Now that he is ahead of Platini, who inspired France to two World Cup semi-finals, glory at Euro ’84 and was a three-time Ballon d’Or winner long before he came to be known as a disgraced official, Giroud is only nine goals behind the all-time leading mark held by Thierry Henry at 52.
To be among the leading scorers for one of the world’s great footballing nations is an incredible feat, especially when considering the contrasting club career that Giroud has alongside it.
Giroud, now 34, was a late bloomer. He didn’t play top flight football for the first time until he was almost 24. He hit the headlines with in 2011/12 as Montpellier shocked France and Europe to win Ligue 1 – that is the only top flight league season in his career in which he has reached 20 goals.
His form at Montpellier earned Giroud a transfer to Arsenal in 2012. But while he consistently chipped in with double figures in the Premier League, reaching more than 20 goals in all competitions on two occasions for the Gunners, his reputation was never that of an elite striker.
Giroud has moved even further away from that status since joining Chelsea in January 2018, where he has largely performed a back-up role and is an important squad player at best. He made 27 Premier League appearances for Chelsea during the 2018/19 season, only seven were as a starter.
Giroud is a cup player. That same season, he netted 11 times as Chelsea won the Europa League and was the competition’s top scorer. Where just his league tally was concerned, he actually scored more goals for France that campaign.
That is because despite a lessening role at club level in recent years and never an elite reputation, Giroud has been indispensable for France for virtually a decade. That alone is what made cliched transfer rumours about seeking a move away from Chelsea last summer and January on the justification of ensuring his selection for France at Euro 2020 completely bizarre and hollow.
It is difficult to state how important Giroud is for France, regardless of his club output.
Since Giroud was first called up and made his senior France debut in November 2011, without any prior junior or Under-21 experience, he has never been left out of a squad when fit.
From when Giroud made that bow, a substitute appearance in a friendly against the United States, France have played 113 games – Giroud has played in 100 of them. He is only left out when injured, which has been rare, and most of his omissions were in the autumn of 2014 as a result of a broken foot. What’s more, when in the squad, he very rarely just sits on the bench, missing only four games in nine years by virtue of being left as an unused substitute – and only two since 2012.
Ever since 2016, Giroud starts virtually every France game, going on to lead the line at Euro 2016, where Les Bleus reached the final on home soil, and the victorious 2018 World Cup.
He is so crucial to the way that France play, acting as a focal point that allows the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe to perform as they can. Yet he is not just an enabler for others. In first half of last season, when he could barely get a game for Chelsea, Giroud scored in four of six Euro 2020 qualifiers, proving crucial to France’s qualification for the final tournament.
Of course, at 34, he is running out of time to catch Henry and become France’s all-time leading scorer. But with seven international goals to his name since the start of last season alone, he is much closer than you might think.
People might be shocked should a relatively unremarkable player get hold of that prestigious honour, but it would be no less than he deserves because, actually, he is quite remarkable.