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Euro 2024: Didier Deschamps's journey so far as France's manager

Published at :July 8, 2024 at 4:07 PM
Modified at :July 8, 2024 at 4:07 PM
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Saikat Sengupta

Deschamps is the third and only manager to win the World Cup both as a coach and player.

Had Argentine custodian Emiliano Martinez not denied that 123rd-minute shot from Randal Kolo Muani, Didier Deschamps’s name would have forever been etched in the luminary list of managers who won the FIFA World Cup twice. A list so elite and precious, it includes no one else on this planet other than the legendary Vittorio Pozzo, who won the World Cup twice with Italy in 1934 and 1938.

The 55-year-old World Cup-winning French manager briefed the media after his side scripted a miraculous comeback after trailing 2-0 at halftime to make it 3-3 after extra time before finally going down 4-2 on penalties: “We had a chance to win the World Cup in the last minute, but it wasn’t to be. At 2-0, there wouldn’t have been the same regrets; you just say, bravo to them. I don’t want to take any merits away from Argentina, but there were lots and lots of emotions, and it was cruel at the end because we were so very close.”

One of the longest-serving managers of the France national team, Didier Deschamps’s future as the Les Bleus manager was quite uncertain, but an announcement from the French Football Federation turned down every rumour and possibility of Deschamps departing after a decade. The FFF said in a statement, “The French Football Federation is pleased to announce the extension of Didier Deschamps as the head coach of the French team until June 2026. Appointed on 9 July 2012, Deschamps has an exceptional track record of winning 89 matches and scoring 279 goals in 139 matches.”

Back in 2012, when Didier Deschamps, who was also popularly referred to as the “water carrier,” took the reins of Les Bleus, circumstances were not very pleasant. But time and again, he has defied all odds to propel the French team to become one of the most dominating and invincible forces now. In this feature, we take you on a flashback of Deschamps’s journey so far as the manager of the French national team.

Didier Deschamps’s appointment and early success as manager

Deschamps saw early success as a manager when he took Monaco to their first-ever UEFA Champions League final in 2002-03 and won Ligue 1 with Marseille in 2009-10. The 2006 World Cup finalist France saw a humiliating exit from the group stage in the 2008 Euros and 2010 FIFA World Cup and was thrashed by Spain in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Euros 2012. Amidst the chaos and uncertain times, Didier Deschamps was appointed as the manager of the Les Bleus on a two-year contract, with a slight hope that he would replicate his success as a captain and bring back those old golden days in every gully and corner of Paris.

Didier Deschamps’s first responsibility was to ensure that Les Bleus sealed their spot in the FIFA World Cup 2014 to be held in Brazil. France were placed alongside defending champions Spain, Belarus, Finland, and Georgia. They finished second and had to win a two-legged playoff match against Ukraine to make it to the biggest footballing tournament in the world. The team led by Didier Deschamps managed to bounce back 3-2 on aggregate in the second leg after trailing 0-2 in the first 90 minutes against Ukraine. This victory ensured France’s participation in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The first World Cup and Euros under Didier Deschamps

It was Deschamps’s first World Cup as the manager, and he did not disappoint as Les Bleus topped their group against the likes of Switzerland, Ecuador, and Honduras. In the Round of 16, France thrashed African giants Nigeria 2-0 to seal their quarter-final berth against Germany. They went down narrowly by one goal to Germany, who later became the champions in that edition of the World Cup.

Though Deschamps’s side did not make it to the top four, Paul Pogba was adjudged the Best Young Player of the Tournament, giving a glimpse to the world of what was about to come during Deschamps’s upcoming tenure.

Two years later, France was to host the Euros of 2016. The home team managed to top the group again. Later they defeated Ireland in the Round of 16, Iceland in the quarter-finals, and Germany in the semi-finals, courtesy of a brace from Antoine Griezmann. They were the favourites to win the Euros on their home soil, but an extra-time goal from Portuguese poster boy Eder broke the hearts of millions of French people. Despite a silver medal finish, France under Didier Deschamps was slowly becoming a major threat to reckon with.

Former French captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who has featured in many matches under Deschamps, believes, “Didier is calm and collected and transmits that to the players. We have a great relationship between players and coach, and it is not a coincidence that he has been a coach for such a long time.”

Criticism, limelight and recognition at the 2018 FIFA World Cup

Didier Deschamps infamously got the limelight and was surrounded with criticisms after he dropped French superstar Karim Benzema from his 23-man roster for the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. He is believed to have selected players who he felt could gel as a cohesive unit. The fire of critics got reignited after France displayed a poor performance by narrowly winning their group fixtures against Australia and Peru and settling for a draw with the Danes.

However, Deschamps’s side bounced back in no time as they managed to knock out Argentina from the Round of 16 after an epic 4-3 victory against La Albiceleste. They thrashed Uruguay 2-0 in the quarter-finals and Belgium 1-0 in the semi-finals. The ‘not-so-favourites’ France were in the finals of the FIFA World Cup after 12 long years, and Croatia was the only hurdle between Les Bleus repeating their 1998 victory. They managed to etch their names in the history book after France defeated Croatia 4-2 in the finals in Moscow.

Didier Deschamps became the third person on this planet to win the FIFA World Cup both as a coach and player after Franz Beckenbauer of Germany and Mario Zagallo of Brazil. Didier Deschamps’s name soon became one of the top-searched people on Earth as per Google after his 2018 victory with France. He believed, “You need a combination of things in place. You need world-class players, but that is not enough. You need other ingredients like a good team spirit, and matches are decided on very small details, so perhaps you need a bit of luck. You are walking a tightrope.”

Breaking free from the shackles of the “champions curse”

Things started dipping slowly for Didier Deschamps and Co. as the world champions were knocked out on penalties by Switzerland in the Round of 16 at the Euros 2020. The manager did not let that rare failure get over his head as he turned his complete focus and attention to the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. But there was something called the “champions curse” in the FIFA World Cup.

In 2010, the defending champions Italy finished last in their group shockingly and couldn’t advance from the group stages. In 2014, defending champions Spain failed to progress into the Round of 16 after a humiliating exit from the group stages. In 2018, defending champions Germany were the next victim as the Germans repeated history by being eliminated from the group stage. In 2022, it seemed like France could be on the brink of a humiliating exit, given their recent poor performances in the Euros.

The 2022 World Cup kicked off in Qatar, and Didier’s first major responsibility was to ensure France, the defending champions, at least progressed from the group stage to break the “champions curse”. France did that in fashion as they managed to top Group D, which included Australia, Denmark, and Tunisia. France managed to defeat Poland 3-1 in the Round of 16 before eliminating the Euros 2022 silver medalist, England, in the quarter-finals.

They had to face Morocco in the semi-finals, who previously caused a lot of upsets when they knocked out giants like Belgium, Portugal, and Spain. But the Moroccan roster couldn’t get the better of France as Didier Deschamps’s men defeated Morocco 2-0 in the semi-finals to book their berth in the finals against Lionel Messi’s Argentina.

Also read: Top 10 greatest French football players of all time

Didier Deschamps and Co. winning the hearts amidst World Cup final failure

However, despite a resilient 3-3 comeback after going 2-0 down in the first 45 minutes, Didier Deschamps’s Frenchmen went down 4-2 on penalties, but their performance won a lot of hearts. The visuals of French President Emmanuel Macron consoling a sad and disheartened Kylian Mbappe summarize how the Les Bleus loyalists were so proud of their team’s efforts and dedication.

In the words of Guy Stéphan, who has spent the majority of his time working alongside the head coach as his assistant during his long managerial career, “He has got something extra. The main thing is to always be aware of what’s going on out there. You’ve got all the generations; you have to talk a lot with the players. It’s important for them to express themselves.”

The search for the missing piece of the puzzle at the Euro 2024

Didier Deschamps, after that heartbreak in Qatar, wasted no time lamenting or regretting the past. Rather, he chose to work harder with more intensity and focus to find the missing piece of the puzzle. What was that missing piece? The Euro trophy. The 55-year-old came so close to lifting it in 2016 until Portugal denied them a home-soil victory in 2016.

At the Euro 2024, France were placed in a tough group alongside Austria, the Netherlands, and Poland. They managed to finish second in the group and went on to defeat Belgium in the Round of 16 and Portugal in the quarter-finals to seal their semi-final berth against Spain. However, Les Bleus are yet to score from open play as an own goal from Jan Vertonghen and a penalty miss from Joao Felix saw them get past Belgium and Portugal respectively.

Handling pressure and overcoming challenges is in the DNA of Deschamps, who has repeatedly defied odds and critics to establish himself as one of the finest managers in international football. It will be interesting to see if Les Bleus can get the better of Spain to make it to the finals of Euro 2024.

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