Eric Cantona may have once disdainfully dismissed him, but there is no chance of either Chelsea or their manager underestimating Didier Deschamps when he takes his seat in the away dugout at Stamford Bridge tonight.
As a player, Marseilles' manager was one of the most decorated in the modern era with a World Cup, a European Championship, a couple of Champions Leagues, three Italian titles and an FA Cup winners' medal – in the blue of Chelsea – to his name. Since crossing the line into the Monaco dugout nine years ago, aged only 35 and having retired as a player all of three days earlier, he has become one of the most coveted coaches on the continent, so much so that he is reckoned to have been in serious consideration for the Chelsea job two years ago.
Luiz Felipe Scolari was appointed instead and Deschamps had to wait another year before being called upon to revive the fortunes of the club where he had made his name as a player some 20 years ago. His debut season as manager at the Stade Velodrome could not have been better scripted as Marseilles ended their drought with a first Ligue 1 title for 18 years – when a certain stocky midfielder had assumed the water-fetching duties with notable success.
"I knew him as a player – I had him for six months at Juventus," said Carlo Ancelotti. "I will be happy to welcome him. Perhaps I will offer him a glass of wine... Italian, not French."
Deschamps may actually enjoy the break from all things French, certainly from all things Olympique Marseilles. The club has a history that matches the chaos of the port city that is their home, not least during the infamous Bernard Tapie era when the club were stripped of their 1993 championship and relegated after Tapie was found guilty of bribing opponents.
Deschamps is expected to move on again after this season. He left Juventus abruptly after an internal disagreement having lifted them back into Serie A following their own scandals and is said to have had enough of the politicking that pervades Marseilles. His side may have begun the new campaign poorly, but Deschamps will still be in demand come the summer. Liverpool wanted the 41-year-old to replace Rafael Benitez, but he turned them down after a "long meeting".
He describes coming back to Stamford Bridge – he played 47 times for them a decade ago – as a "pleasure". But he has been back before and that is why Chelsea will not dare take his side lightly. Six years ago he brought Monaco to London for the second leg of the Champions League semi-final and oversaw the elimination of Roman Abramovich's new plaything.
"Chelsea at home against most teams in Europe would be favourites," said Deschamps. "But we are not here just to watch them play."Reuse content