Football: Deschamps raises expectations

Chelsea's pounds 3m signing contends that his winning ways can bring success at last to west London. By Trevor Haylett
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The Independent Online
DIDIER DESCHAMPS was unveiled at Stamford Bridge yesterday as "the man who needs no introduction", so, of course, what then followed was the fulsome introduction. Most-capped French player; twice victorious in the European Cup with Marseilles and Juventus; a championship winner in France in both 1990 and 1992 and in Italy in '95, '97 and '98; the World Cup-winning captain, etc etc. As introductions go, it was long and mightily impressive.

Doubtless, had any supporters been in hearing range at the moment Colin Hutchinson, the club's managing director, was paying homage to their new pounds 3m signing, they would have been mentally writing Chelsea's name down as next in line for success on Deschamps' own remarkable honours board. It has become something of a summer ritual, this migration from Europe's footballing capitals to west London, new faces but big names all well briefed and voicing their determination to land the league championship for Chelsea. And with every new arrival, so the weight of expectation grows.

Whether Deschamps is the missing ingredient for the team that has more to prove than any other next season is something Gianluca Vialli and the rest of us will only begin to discover come 7 August. If the secret of winning football matches is to fill your team with winners, then, certainly, you could hardly do much better than to enlist the help of the World Cup winners. Then again at 30, surely the Deschamps appetite has been dulled by all those glorious yesterdays.

He insists not. "I have a winning mentality and I want to keep it for the next three years, I want to win more trophies with Chelsea and especially the national title because I understand they have not won it for some time," he said. He could have joined Monaco instead but pointed out: "It will be easier to win things with Chelsea."

It is as a winner that Deschamps hopes English audiences will come to recognise him and not as a water carrier which is how Eric Cantona, sucking heavily on an acid drop, chose to highlight his compatriot's work-a-day qualities in the midfield area. That was before the Manchester United team of which Cantona was the pivotal influence squared up to Deschamps' Juventus in the Champions' League of three years ago.

If he was rattled at the time then Deschamps was ready with the straightest of bats yesterday and went so far as to suggest that Cantona's observation was more a mark of respect than a criticism. "It is not a bad thing to be seen as a water carrier. I have no wish to be in the spotlight and my role in football is to serve my colleagues and to make the team better. I do not act the star, I am a defensive player chosen for my qualities to make other players look good. I have always played this way and I don't see any reason to change. It's why I've been able to win so many things in my career."

At Stamford Bridge he links up with fellow Frenchmen who think more kindly towards him than Cantona ever did and who, in the case of Marcel Desailly, with whom he shares a close personal friendship. They are godfathers to their respective children. Then there is Vialli, a former team-mate at Juventus and another long-standing member of the Deschamps fan club. All were factors in his decision to come to London but not as powerful as London itself. "Even if Manchester United had wanted to sign me I would still have come to Chelsea," he said. "I want to live in the capital city and I prefer to discover London than to discover Manchester. It is important that my family [he is married and has a three-year-old son] is at ease and in London there are a lot of things happening outside the game that can match the level of the football that is played here.

"I've signed a contract for three years and I think I will stay here until the end of my career. I am not someone who needs to keep moving around and I am looking forward to getting to know all about English football. From what I know already the game is changing here. It always used to be very physical and not so tactical as is the case, for example, in Italy. Now there is more emphasis on tactics and the proof of that comes with Manchester United's success in the European Cup, but I am still aware that to play in England requires a lot of physical effort."

Too much effort, according to the Football Association, which is anxious to trim the Premier League down to an 18-club competition to fall in line with the rest of Europe and reduce the demands on our leading performers. Yet no self-respecting water carrier can afford to approach hard graft with any reluctance and Deschamps insists he is equipped, both mentally and physically, to cope with the additional workload.

"It is the same wherever you go. In France, Germany and Italy as well as in England there are a large number of matches for the top players and you have to stay concentrated for more than 50 games a season. So I don't think it will be a problem, because my performances have always been based on the physical side of the game."

Nathalie Tauziat, a distant cousin and last year's Wimbledon runner-up, was in action yesterday afternoon just four stops along the District Line but for Deschamps the pressing need, once he had seen to the demands of the assembled press and television crews, was to begin the search for somewhere to live in London. With a pounds 5m contract burning a hole in his pockets, there is no sense hanging about - the tennis would have to take a back seat.