Four years ago, at Russia 2018, France secured a 1-0 win in a crunch semi-final against Belgium to clinch a berth in the final act of the competition, which they won against Croatia, through a goal scored by central defender Samuel Umtiti.
Umtiti has known a fall from grace in the past four years, but France have continued to provide excellent defenders that could change the outcome of important games. This time around, at Qatar 2022, it was left back Theo Hernandez who became crucial, scoring after only four minutes and 41 seconds in the semi-final against Morocco to send ”Les Bleus” on the right path.
Hernandez was not even supposed to start at Qatar 2022, being called as a backup for his brother, Lucas, who suffered a tournament-ending injury in the maiden game at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, against Australia, which France won, 4-1.
But Theo Hernandez, one of the most attacking-minded fullbacks in European football, who is playing for AC Milan, the Italian champions, took the opportunity with both hands and was there exactly when he was needed, converting an acrobatic shot and sending France through to the final, with a 2-0 win over Morocco.
Yet Hernandez did not have it easy in his life and it could have turned out very, very differently indeed. Both Theo and his brother, Lucas, were born in Marseille, as their father, Jean-Francois, was also a football player, who was featuring for Olympique in that time.
Since that, he also featured for Rayo Vallecano and Atletico Madrid in Spain, a path chosen by both his sons, despite them having no contact with their father, who went missing in Thailand in 2004.
“I’m clear that he left because he didn’t love us and if that was the case, then it’s for the best that he left. Now 16 or 17 years have passed and we haven’t heard anything about him. I don’t know where my father is, what he does, or if he’s still alive or not,” said Lucas, according to Spanish outlet ”Marca”.
The two boys started playing football in Spain, at Rayo Majadahonda and Atletico Madrid, with Theo being signed in a surprise move by Real Madrid in 2017, cancelling a no-transfer pact between the two Madrid sides who has been going on for decades.
His debut was made at Deportivo Alaves, who loaned him for one season.On his right hand, Hernandez has tattooed five numbers, one on each of his fingers, and one on his thumb – 28816 – to remind him of the date that he did grace La Liga for the first time, on 28th August 2016.
However, with Real boasting Brazilian star Marcelo on that position, the France left back found playing at the Spanish powerhouse very difficult. After featuring in 23 matches in two seasons, he decided it was better to leave.
In dire need of a left back, AC Milan came calling and the two sides settled for a €20 million transfer. Since that moment, Hernandez never looked back and has been getting better and better, having already scored 22 goals in 139 matches for the ”Rossoneri”.
And now, he has written history at the FIFA World Cup, scoring only his second goal in his career for France, with the first being against Belgium, in a 3-2 win in the UEFA Nations League semi-final in October 2021.
But the left back could have been representing Spain, after entering in a cold war with the French Federation in 2017. He refused joining the France Under-21 side in the summer and was close to pledge his allegiance for Spain.
“I made a youthful mistake. But it was not clear either at all levels. Maybe some people maybe hoped that I would choose Spain,” said Hernandez in 2019. He waited for three years to have his first cap in the France national team and Didier Deschamps did not forget him, as he made his debut after the UEFA EURO 2021, in August 2021.
Since than, Hernandez has been a regular, featuring 12 times for France. The last game was also his best: a goal scorer in the semi-final of the FIFA World Cup, which enabled France to seal the win.
Were it not the injury suffered by his brother, Lucas, it could have been totally different. Yet Hernandez is basking in the spotlight and creating memories for himself and for all France alike.
It is his time now and he is clearly enjoying it, a modern full-back that delivers excellent performances for club and country.