Deschamps: the water carrier is now Monaco's man of ideas

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The Independent Football

What does Eric Cantona make of it all? No one, least of all Didier Deschamps, can possibly know, although the Monaco manager admits that he would be fascinated to hear what the man who once disparagingly described him as a "water carrier" has to say about his managerial career to date.

If Deschamps' style of play could be referred to as functional, even Cantona would have to admit that his coaching methods have been anything but. "I've never been too worried what anybody has to say about me," says the former France captain, who helped his country lift the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship. "There were those who questioned me as a player and, despite what I have been achieving at Monaco, there will be more criticism. But I know what I'm trying to do."

As he has been in management for only 18 months, it is probably a little too soon to call Deschamps a revolutionary, but the early signs are promising. Not only are his young side riding high at the top of Ligue 1, they are also widely regarded as this season's dark horses for the Champions' League. "We're doing OK," Des-champs says in his matter-of-fact manner, "but we've got to make sure we win trophies. Last season, we went very close to taking the French League, but then fell away at the end. It's important we don't repeat those mistakes again."

Monaco will certainly have to play a lot better in the second leg of their last- 16 tie with Lokomotiv Moscow if they are to progress further in Europe's premier competition. On Tuesday, only a late goal by Fernando Morientes kept Monaco alive. "At 2-1 down and with the home leg to come," Deschamps says, "we're probably favourites now, but it was not a good performance in Moscow. If we want to do well in this competition we'll have to raise the level of our performances, starting with the return match against Lokomotiv [on Wednesday week]."

Deschamps the manager seems to be just as demanding as Deschamps the player. "No, no," he insists, "I'm a lot more exacting now that I'm on the sidelines. When I was a player, I set myself very high standards but I knew that I could maintain them. As a coach, it is much more difficult, because it's impossible to force 11 men to be like you."

Perhaps so, but the current Monaco team have nonetheless shown that they are open to Deschamps' ideas. How else can one explain the club's turnaround in fortunes since the former Nantes, Marseille, Juventus, Chelsea and Valencia midfielder took charge in July 2002? "It's true that there has been a good response to my methods," he says, "but it didn't just happen overnight. I had to persuade everyone at the club that what I was saying made sense."

Deschamps adds: "One thing that helped speed up my acceptance was that I played at the highest level. It helped gain the confidence of the players, especially in the early weeks."

Not that good players always make good managers. "In fact," he interjects, "they very rarely do. That's why, after a brief honeymoon, you have to start delivering. You can only rely on your past for a short time. After that, if you're not up to the job, you'll be quickly found out. You can't bluff your way to success."

Deschamps has done a lot more than simply waltz into the Stade Louis II and parade his numerous medals. He has also shown strength of character, not least when he got rid of several big-name players, such as Marco Simone and Christian Panucci. "As a manager," the 35-year-old Deschamps says, "the toughest part is making the off-field calls. In a sense, the coaching side is relatively easy because, if you have your diploma and your set of ideas, then the players should get the message. Dropping or sacking a player is a whole different story. No one teaches you that."

It is at times like this that Deschamps' playing experiences across Europe, and more specifically at Chelsea, have proved invaluable. When he arrived at Stamford Bridge from Juventus in the summer of 1999, many felt that he was the final piece in Gianluca Vialli's championship puzzle. Not only had Deschamps won two Champions' League medals, he was also a personal friend of Vialli's, someone who could help transmit the Italian's thoughts on the pitch. However, Deschamps was gone within nine months and has not spoken to Vialli since.

"It taught me that you have to keep everything separated," he admits. "Management is about making the right decisions, not the popular ones."

So we should not expect his great friend Marcel Desailly, who is struggling to get into the Chelsea side, to join him at Monaco? "Marcel and I have a bond that goes well beyond football," Deschamps explains, "and that will never be broken. I hope he does get another chance at Chelsea, though, because he needs to play if he is to lead France for one last tournament at Euro 2004."

The irony is that the performances of Desailly's troops this summer will have a direct effect on Deschamps' future. Should Les Bleus reach the last four, Jacques Santini will retain his job; but if they repeat the fiasco of the 2002 World Cup, when they were eliminated in the first round, Deschamps could well become his country's youngest-ever manager. "Is that so?" is his predictable response. One hates to think what Cantona's would be.