Already a World Cup winner as a player and manager, Didier Deschamps could write another incredible chapter in his footballing history on Sunday, in potentially his last game in charge of France.
Les Bleus could become the first country since Brazil in 1962 to retain the trophy, with Deschamps aiming to be the first manager since 1938 to guide his country to two World Cup successes.
The 54-year-old’s contract expires at the end of the tournament and whatever happens in Sunday’s final against a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina, Deschamps’ place in French football folklore is secure.
“Never anything more than a water carrier”
Deschamps had a stellar playing career with stints in France, Italy, England and Spain and was considered one of the best defensive midfielders in the game.
But not everyone was a fan.
“Deschamps is doing well because he gives 100 per cent, but he will never be anything more than a water carrier – there are players like him around every corner,” said the former France teammate Eric Cantona in an interview in September 1996.
“How many players are there on street corners who have won two European Cups?” replied Deschamps, referring to his Champions League final victories with Marseille in 1993 and Juventus in 1996.
By the time he retired in 2001 he had made four Champions League finals (and been an unused substitute as Valencia lost in 2001), and had won five domestic championships (two with Marseille and three with La Juventus) as well as the Coppa Italia. with Juventus and the FA Cup with Chelsea.
He won 103 international caps, captaining France in their first World Cup in 1998, followed two years later by victory at Euro 2000.
Deschamps’ teammate Marcel Desailly speaking to the BBC for the documentary How to win the world cup, said: “Didier was my captain of all my teams and you could see he was a natural leader.”
An obsession to succeed and excellent people management skills
A coaching career was the obvious progression and after spells at Monaco, Juventus and Marseille, Deschamps became France boss in 2012.
After losing in the 2006 World Cup final, 2010 was a disaster for France without a win. They finished last in their group, with the players refusing to train after an altercation between coach Raymond Domenech and striker Nicolas Anelka.
World Cup-winning defender Laurent Blanc was next but quit after the quarter-final loss to Spain at Euro 2012 – his only tournament.
“There was a lot of respect when Didier took over and we knew that with his obsession to succeed he would identify the right strategy for the national team,” added Desailly.
France, under Deschamps, reached the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, losing to eventual winners Germany, and reached the final of the Euros 2016 they hosted, before Portugal beat them 1-0.
It was clear France were building something special, with Deschamps’ man-management and tactical skills.
In their opening game of the 2018 World Cup, France won 2-1 against Australia and Deschamps was seen telling his players that their opponents had produced twice as many sprints and ran twice as far, with striker Kylian Mbappe highlighted for lack of effort. .
Midfielder Paul Pogba questioned the tactic, saying they didn’t know where to attack from and Deschamps replied: “I’m not saying you, I’m saying us and I’m including myself. I will protect each of you , one by one, but we have to act.”
“Didier finds the right words with the right person at the right time, he’s a master at it,” said former press officer Philippe Tournon.
“He knows when to get the stick out and when to get the carrot out, whether it’s softening the blow or hitting them on the knuckles.”
They met Sunday’s opponents Argentina in the round of 16 in Russia and won 4-3 in a thriller, but Deschamps’ man-handling skills were again put to the test by the after.
Some of the players had gone out, returned in the early hours, loud and furious, waking up those who were sleeping when defender Adil Rami sprayed them with a fire extinguisher, filling the hotel hallway with steam.
Tournon said: “Of course the smoke alarms went off, waking the whole hotel up. My room was next to Didier’s and I thought he was ready to rip them apart.
“Didier had a word and, with his sixth sense of his relationship with the players and the unity of the group, said to me ‘if I put in it, it could break something that we have been building for five or six weeks. ‘.”
France then beat Uruguay and Belgium before a 4-2 win over Croatia gave Deschamps World Cup success as a player and manager.
During the celebrations, Pogba, while pointing to Deschamps, was seen shouting at the camera ‘it’s the star, it’s him, the star is on his head’.
“A team stronger than individuals”
France entered the 2022 World Cup facing questions after failing to win four games in June and with Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema injured.
Striker Benzema joined injured midfielders Pogba and N’Golo Kante, who both started the 2018 final, on the sidelines, but France managed without the trio.
Mbappe has five goals, Olivier Giroud, 36, four, while Antoine Griezmann, operating in a deeper role, has three assists and has created the most chances in the competition.
France’s 4-2-3-1 formation allowed Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele to attack from wide positions, while Adrien Rabiot and Aurélien Tchouameni provided the midfield platform in Pogba’s absence and Kante.
France qualified for the knockout stages with one game to spare and their only difficult moment came in the second half of the quarter-final with England, before Giroud netted a late winner.
“Didier has created a team that is stronger than individuals, which may not have always been the case,” England coach Gareth Southgate said.
A 2-0 win over Morocco took them to their fourth World Cup final in seven tournaments.
French football journalist Julien Laurens, speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, added: “Deschamps is doing an incredible job.
“This team is very similar to the team that won in 2018 – because it’s the same coach.
“They could play better, but Deschamps made them a ruthless winning team. That’s all they care about. It’s about winning.”