Football: Tigana in search of a vintage year at Monaco

The coach of Manchester United's next opponents tells Dominique Baldy why he refuses to live in the past
Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT SEEMS, of late, to have become the vogue to cite a footballer's willingness to stay behind after his team-mates for extra training as evidence of the superior dedication that enables the great player to stand out from the rest.

However, the last man working out on Monaco's idyllic training ground, set high among the cliffs of the Cote d'Azure, yesterday will not be coming face to face with Beckham and company at the Stade Louis II tomorrow, at least not directly.

The figure still working up a sweat as the first of the players' high- performance cars begin to negotiate the descent back towards Monte Carlo is the Monaco coach and former French midfield legend Jean Tigana, the man Alex Ferguson must outwit if Manchester United are to reach the semi- finals of the European Cup.

"I train daily," Tigana said, "as I believe a coach cannot let himself go, and must exhibit the same professionalism that he expects from his players."

This certainly seems to confirm the popular perception of Tigana as a man noted on setting the highest standards, both for himself and others. As a player, his skills and fiercely competitive spirit earned him 52 caps during France's golden era in the 1980s, playing alongside Michel Platini and Alain Giresse.

Twice a World Cup semi- finalist, winning a European Championship in 1984, and five domestic titles while playing for Bordeaux and Marseilles, Tigana has transferred his success to the coaching arena, where his team are in pursuit of a unique treble. There has even been talk that he may take over as coach of Barcelona next season, or perhaps take charge of the national side when Aime Jacquet steps down.

Watching Tigana putting his multi-talented squad through their paces earlier, the impression was that he is respected first and loved second. With the options open to him, Tigana has to put the occasional nose out of joint, the latest being Victor Ikpeba, who discovered that being African Footballer of the Year was no assurance against a spell on the bench. Ikpeba learned his lesson and scored both goals in Saturday's 2-0 French Cup win over Marseilles.

"He's a very quiet, private man," Monaco's Scottish midfielder, John Collins, said. "He knows what he wants, and if he doesn't get it, you're not in the team. It's as simple as that."

When it comes to Manchester United and Ferguson, Tigana offers little more than the respect he automatically considers due to fellow combatants also pursuing success on a number of different fronts.

"We respect Manchester United, but with no inferiority complex," Tigana says. "I was delighted with the draw because both games should be superb football occasions. I've never met Ferguson, but his ability not just to achieve success but to then be able to repeat it is a quality that I admire in anybody.

"I've had them watched, naturally, but there are so many good players there that I couldn't really pick anybody out."

None the less, there is a United old boy on whom Tigana is better qualified than most to hold forth, for he and Eric Cantona go way back, to their formative years in Marseilles.

"Yes, I've known Eric since he was a little boy. As well as being from the same district he was at school with my little brother, and we were both discovered playing for the local club, Caillols. In later years we played together at Bordeaux and Marseilles."

Had Cantona delayed his retirement by another season, the two Caillols boys might have met up again in the more rarefied atmosphere of the Champions' Cup, but Tigana feels it was disappointment of unfulfilled international ambition that was the main reason for Cantona's retirement.

"I think he would have stayed on if he was involved in the World Cup, but when that door was closed he decided enough was enough. I spoke to him after he retired and said it was a shame he stopped, but he's made a life choice and you have to respect that. We've always had a good relationship, and I would never presume to try to talk him out of his decision."

Neither has Tigana been tempted to get his old friend to reveal any deficiencies in Monaco's forthcoming opponents. "We are in touch regularly, but it would never occur to me to embarrass him by asking that. In any case, I'm the coach of Monaco, and if my own eyes can't tell me what I need to know, what am I here for?"

In a World Cup year, any meeting with Tigana readily invokes memories of the French exploits of the 1980s, an era when it seemed the hopes of Les Bleus invariably foundered on the rock of efficient Teutonic values embodied by West Germany.

That was most famously epitomised in the epic 1982 World Cup semi-final in Seville, remembered as the game in which the French refusal to shut up shop, despite leading 3-1 in extra-time, enabled the West Germans to claw their way back, and eventually triumph on penalties. Tigana believes that analysis overstates the case.

"It's true that we continued to attack. But at the time there was no option, as we had lost Genghini and Battiston during the game, and unfortunately we only had defenders on the bench, so our rhythm was hampered. It was our subsequent disorganisation after the enforced substitutions that caused our defeat rather than excessive attacking."

Tigana's responses to questions about the events of the last decade are polite but unimpassioned, suggesting any ghosts from that period were exorcised long ago.

"It's true, I don't live with the past. I've turned the page, and what interests me is the future. Once in a while, I meet up with Platini, Giresse and Fernandez for a chat, but I have too much going on at the moment to get too nostalgic about those days.

"At the moment we have the Champions' Cup to worry about, and that really eats you up, emotionally and physically, and we're also aiming for the French league and cup double, which is quite exceptional."

Away from football, Tigana's eight years at Bordeaux started him down the unlikely road of a second, inevitably successful, career in the wine trade.

"For a couple of years when I retired as a player, that was all I did. But I missed football, and the pressure, and winning, so I returned to become a manager. Now I never take holidays. Any time off from football, I go back and work on the land."

Tomorrow's game will be one of the rare occasions when United confront a side with a manager as driven as their own. And in the unlikely event that they should be tempted to underestimate Monaco, they need only recall the fate suffered here last season by Newcastle United, who were dispatched from the Uefa Cup with the same ruthlessness the croupiers in Monte Carlo's casino reserve for gamblers who push their luck too far.

Were Monaco to repeat that feat this time round, the omens would appear to be good for Chateau Tigana 1988 to become a vintage year.

Comments