Wed | May 22, 2019

Deschamps poised for greatness

Published:Saturday | July 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM


Half-time at the 1998 World Cup final, France is 2-0 up against Brazil. In the locker room, Zinedine Zidane is flat on his back on the floor, legs raised on a bench, catching his breath after scoring both goals. Other players are getting thigh massages. But Didier Deschamps, the captain and a relentless bundle of energy, is bending Les Bleus' ears, exhorting his teammates to keep up the pressure in the second half.

"Guys, we are not going to relax one millimetre!" Deschamps yelled. "We've done the hard part. But there's still another 45 minutes of madness!"

Twenty years later, almost to the day, Deschamps will again be barking orders tomorrow at a World Cup final, but this time as France's coach. Victory against Croatia would be a crowning achievement for the 49-year-old natural-born leader who could join Brazil's Mario Zagallo and Germany's Franz Beckenbauer as only the third person to win the World Cup as both player and coach.


Rebuttal to critics


Delivering a second star for the deep-blue jersey he wore 103 times as a player would also be a button-it rebuttal to critics who argue that Deschamps is more of a lucky coach than a skilled one. That school of thought posits that any half-decent tactician could have done as well or better with France's deep pool of talent that includes some of football's most expensive players, headlined by Paris Saint-Germain's electrifying teenager Kylian Mbappe.

Certainly, anything short of a semi-final in Russia would have been viewed as disappointing for France's football- production line that finished runner-up to Portugal two years ago at the European Championship and that lost to eventual winner Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals in 2014.

But as great French chefs know, it takes more than just tip-top ingredients to make a winning recipe. Deschamps' skill has been to get players who are stars at Europe's biggest clubs to bury their egos and pull as a unit behind his guiding, almost socialist, philosophy that everyone is equal on the team or, as he puts it, the "collective".

Clearly, Deschamps got the blend right. Laboured victories against Australia and Peru and a goalless draw with Denmark in the group stage were followed by an exuberant, confidence-building 4-3 elimination of Argentina that showcased the speed and skills of Mbappe , who scored twice. Then came impressive defensive displays against Uruguay (2-0) and Belgium (1-0) in the quarter- and semi-finals.