Laporte: I'll fight for Spain in my own way
Madrid, June 17, 2021 (AFP) - "I know it's possible but I'd rather not think about it," says Aymeric Laporte, the prospect of Spain facing France at Euro 2020 still remote enough that he can put it to one side for now.
They cannot meet before the quarter-finals and while France look strong after an opening win over Germany, Spain still have work to do, a goalless draw against Sweden raising the stakes in Group E ahead of Saturday's match against Poland.
For Laporte, a reunion with his former team would be uncomfortable, not least because it would bring fresh scrutiny on his switch from French to Spanish nationality, a move that was rushed through by Spain's Ministry of Sport only last month.
Three weeks later, the 27-year-old made his debut in a friendly against Portugal before being handed his second appearance in Monday's opener in Seville. Spain are still yet to concede with him in the side.
"I knew quite a few of the players already, I'd played against most of them," Laporte says in an exclusive interview with AFP. "They're nice guys, they all like to wind each other up with messages. I feel very comfortable."
Laporte, born in Agen in the south of France, spoke only to his family about the decision, which he admits was "quite delicate", even if the possibility was first put to him in 2014, when he was a year short of FIFA's required five years' residency to qualify for Spain.
"I didn't have the years to be Spanish," says Laporte. "So then my first objective was always France. Before it wasn't possible and now it is, that's it."
Outside the squad, there has been a degree of scepticism about Laporte's arrival, given he represented the French youth teams, only to be denied a place in the senior side by Didier Deschamps.
Earlier this month, Laporte was asked by a Spanish journalist: "Do you feel Spanish enough to be able to defend the badge, the flag, the nation, the anthem?" to which he replied, "Wow, what a question."
How has he found the welcome more generally? "There is a bit of everything, like anywhere, there are a lot of people who are in favour but there are many who are also against," he says.
"There is a political agenda behind all that and I can see that it's not easy for everyone to accept, I also understand those people. Everything is fine, for now.
"There will be worse times to come and also the opposite. I just try to make the most of the good moments and push the bad ones aside because otherwise I know it'll be a rollercoaster."
Suspicion of Laporte's inclusion is connected to the exclusion of Sergio Ramos, especially in the Madrid press, where the reaction continues to be one of dismay that Real Madrid's former captain was left out.
"This is what the press wanted to blame me for a bit," says Laporte. "The manager said he was injured so it has nothing to do with me. I'm also not the only centre-back in the squad so I don't think it's my fault.
"There's no extra pressure. I'm here to do my job, to fight for Spain in my own way."
As Laporte is speaking at the national team's training base in Las Rozas, 20 miles away Ramos is about to bid farewell to Real Madrid in a press conference at Valdebebas.
"He is an icon in the world of football," says Laporte. "I have watched him a lot since I was young. He is the benchmark.
"I love his character, not his aggressive side, the red cards and all that, but his resilience to make a mistake and still come back stronger, not to hide behind his reputation. He is always ready to stand up and be counted."
Support for Morata
Spain will need some of that resilience against Poland, who made a disappointing start themselves by losing to Slovakia.
Laporte will be up against Robert Lewandowski, the world's most lethal striker last season, while Spain's Alvaro Morata is under pressure after being jeered by Spanish fans against Sweden.
"He is aware the expectations of him are high but that's because he is one of the best in the world and he plays for one of the best teams in Europe," said Laporte.
"He's a grown-up, and when you're a grown-up, there are always expectations. It's been two matches he hasn't scored but the next time he scores one or two or three, whatever, everyone will idolise him again."
There are question-marks hanging over Spain too, after a performance high on possession but low on penetration prompted familiar concerns about the team's style and readiness to challenge again.
"The results will say everything," says Laporte. "A lot of people think they know football but then the complete opposite to what they predict happens.
"We just try to do our job and I would even say so much the better if they think that we're not ready because it takes the pressure off. It motivates us even more."