Desailly calls time on record career for France

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The Independent Online

Marcel Desailly has announced his retirement from international football after a record 116 appearances for France. The Chelsea defender looked well below his best in Portugal, starting only one game as France crashed out of Euro 2004 at the quarter-final stage, and he has decided to call it a day at the age of 35.

"The moment when it is necessary for me to stop has arrived," he said. "I am not as effective as I was. I can no longer do what I was able to do in the past. I compensate with experience where I can."

Although he no longer appeared able to cope with the demands of international football in Portugal, Desailly was a mainstay of the France side that won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship.

His defensive partnership with Laurent Blanc provided the foundation upon which those successes were built, and that France have yet to find an adequate replacement pairing is partly responsible for their failure in the 2002 World Cup and then at Euro 2004.

"There were some fantastic moments, some wonderful memories and some incredible emotions," Desailly continued. "Then the matches, the sound of the crowd; all these factors made wearing the blue shirt an unforgettable experience."

Desailly made his debut for France against Sweden on 22 August 1993 in a World Cup qualifying match. His last appearance was in their 2-2 draw with Croatia in the group stages of Euro 2004. Desailly missed the England game through injury and his mistake contributed to Croatia's second goal in the 2-2 draw.

The France coach, Jacques Santini, then dropped the defender for the final group game against Switzerland and the quarter-final against Greece.

He is one of only three players to have won more than 100 caps for France, with Didier Deschamps (103), and Lilian Thuram (102), the other two.

At club level, Desailly won the Champions' League title with both Marseille and Milan, before moving from Milan to Chelsea in 1998. He was a key member of the side until he was eclipsedby John Terry and William Gallas in the centre of Chelsea's defence for much of last season.

Another Chelsea player, Hernan Crespo, has pleaded with the Milan coach, Carlo Ancelotti, to bring him back to Serie A. The Argentinian had an indifferent first season in west London after joining Chelsea from Internazionale, last summer, and he is keen to return to Italy.

Ancelotti was Crespo's mentor when he first moved to Italy, with Parma in 1996, and would jump at the chance to work with him again.

"Everyone knows that I would be really happy to play under Ancelotti again," Crespo said. "We will see what happens, but I will say one thing: changing clubs during pre-season has been my destiny over the last two years."

The imminent arrival of PSV Eindhoven striker Mateja Kezman at Stamford Bridge could hasten Crespo's exit, and a year-long loan deal would appear the likely option.

Milan are known to be seeking an imposing centre-forward after missing out on Italy international Bernardo Corradi, whom Lazio sold to Valencia last week, and Crespo would match their requirements.

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