Like him or loathe him — Deschamps puts winning before all else
Last weekend, Didier Deschamps chalked up another significant achievement in a remarkable career.
He became the longest-serving coach of France when he oversaw his 80th game as Les Bleus beat Argentina 4-3 in a thriller to go through to Friday’s World Cup quarter-final against Uruguay.
Six years have passed since he replaced Laurent Blanc, but how long he carries on could come down to what happens in Nizhny Novgorod on Friday, when France and their fearsome attack come up against the formidable Uruguayan defence.
The French Football Federation set a semi-final place as their target coming to Russia, and a last-eight exit would leave a sense of potential unfulfilled in the Deschamps era.
The FFF have said that the coach, who turns 50 this year, will stay around until 2020, when his contract expires.
Nevertheless, a disappointing exit and his position will look rather fragile at a time when Zinedine Zidane is a free man having left Real Madrid.
Many France fans will have longed for Zidane as they watched their national team’s performances in the group stage, especially in the insipid 0-0 draw with Denmark.
The display against Argentina was what the public had been crying out for, with the explosive Kylian Mbappe eclipsing Lionel Messi as the French tore apart a fragile defence.
“There has been criticism, and there always will be. But the truth comes with what happens on the pitch,” Deschamps told French television after that game.
Diego Godin and co. will not leave the same kind of space to exploit in the quarter-finals, though, as the coach looks to avoid falling at the same hurdle as four years ago, when they lost to Germany.
Since then, France have lost the Euro 2016 final on home soil to Portugal. Despite topping their qualifying group for this World Cup, the lowlights included a 0-0 draw with minnows Luxembourg.
Deschamps has Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Olivier Giroud and Nabil Fekir in his squad. Yet he has struggled to settle on the perfect system to accommodate his attacking talents, and get the best out of Paul Pogba.
Observers outside France are especially baffled how a team with such an embarrassment of riches in attack cannot play like they did against Argentina more often.
‘A leader of men’
But as Spain great Xavi Hernandez pointed out in a recent interview with French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, it is simply that Deschamps has a style more akin to Diego Simeone than Pep Guardiola.
“He has not changed his ideas on becoming a coach: defensive solidity and counter-attack,” Xavi said.
And if anyone doubts the credentials of the coach now, then more fool them.
This is the man from the Basque Country who won everything as a player, including captaining France to glory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. As a coach he took Monaco to the Champions League final in 2004 and ended Marseille’s long wait to win a French title.
“Deschamps is a living legend in France. His record as a player and a manager is astonishing,” says Matthew Spiro, a British football broadcaster for beIN Sports who is based in Paris.
Spiro says he understands “the clamour for more excitement”, but points out that “in six years he has picked the team up from the depths of despair and reached the World Cup quarter-finals as well as the final of the Euro.”
Calls for more flair are inevitable when Deschamps has so many brilliant players at his disposal, and his lack of charisma when he appears before the media can be frustrating.
However, the end will always justify the means, as long as he keeps on winning.
“He is a manager, a leader of men. He is a winner,” says Guy Stephan, his loyal assistant for almost a decade now.
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