It is 1986 and Bobby Moore is preparing to manage England in the World Cup quarter-final with Argentina.
Twenty years before, he had wiped the mud from his hands and taken the Jules Rimet trophy from the Queen. Since then, he had managed Chelsea to the European Cup final and Newcastle to the title. As he looks around the Azteca Stadium, it occurs to Bobby that he is three games away from winning the World Cup as a player and manager. Then something else occurred to Bobby Moore. Why he was never given any real credit for what he had done, why so many disliked him?
Substitute Didier Deschamps for Moore, Monaco for Chelsea and Marseilles for Newcastle and you have the conundrum of the man who is attempting to become only the third person to win the World Cup as a player and a manager.
Should Deschamps take France to the World Cup final, he will have become the longest-serving manager in the history of the French national team. It is six years since he took over from Laurent Blanc, who like him had been part of the France squad that had won the World Cup, overwhelming Brazil in Paris.
Deschamps had lifted the trophy, Blanc had watched from the sidelines; suspended after Slaven Bilic had conned the referee into sending him off in the semi-final with Croatia. He was the martyr of that World Cup. Deschamps, his captain, was characterised by Eric Cantona as the dully-efficient ‘water carrier’.
It is a description which Deschamps is now quite happy to bat back. “I have carried a lot of water in my time,” he once remarked. “But those buckets have been filled with trophies.”
As manager of France, the accusation against him is that he has cut away the magic, shorn off the flair. The sterile goalless draw with Denmark in the final group game was, in some eyes, peak Deschamps.
The barbs are similar to those directed against Aime Jacquet, the man who managed France to their lone World Cup. After they had won the trophy, Jacquet used his press conference in the Stade de France to denounce the sports paper L’Equipe for what he saw as the utter negativity of their coverage of the French campaign.
Deschamps views the game through similar eyes. Before France played their qualifier against the Netherlands in October 2016, Deschamps took Antony Martial aside while his assistant, Guy Stephan, talked to Paul Pogba. The talk was the same. They were not to show off, they were not to do tricks, they were told to rein in their instincts. France won 1-0 in Amsterdam. Pogba scored the decisive goal.
When Stephan, who has been Deschamps’ long-standing number two at Marseilles and now with France, explained his philosophy to Mathieu Valbuena he said: “The important thing is that the team wins, not that the fans fall in love with an individual player.”
It would be hard for anyone not to fall in love with Kylian Mbappe. His wondrous display against Argentina in Kazan was supposedly the most explosive by a teenager since Michael Owen ran at the retreating Argentine defence 20 years ago.
However, that night in St Etienne England were eliminated on penalties. Owen took no further part in the tournament. A better comparison might be the 17-year-old Pele destroying France in the 1958 semi-final in Stockholm.
Deschamps enjoyed his triumph. “Since I am responsible for everything – particularly when things go wrong – I am very proud,” he said after the 4-3 victory in Kazan. Deschamps is supposedly the arch conservative and yet he had selected Martial, Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Kingsley Coman when they were teenagers.
Yet there were those who said that Deschamps had won because he had finally listened to his critics. Mbappe had been given a completely free role, covered by Pogba, Benjamin Pavard and the tireless N’Golo Kante. Blaise Matudi had been withdrawn from the wing and played more centrally. Would Deschamps continue the experiment in Friday afternoon’s quarter-final against Uruguay in Nizhny Novgorod. Or would he revert to type?
Teams and ideas change during tournaments. In that 1986 World Cup, England were managed by Bobby Robson rather than Bobby Moore and began with two dreadful performances, a 1-0 defeat to Portugal and a goalless draw with Morocco that saw Ray Wilkins sent off and Bryan Robson injured.
It forced England to change – at the England training camp at Monterrey there was talk of a players’ revolt. Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle were brought in to supply Gary Lineker, who went on to win the Golden Boot. Perhaps the French have had their Monterrey moment.
Deschamps’ critics include not just Cantona, who has never forgiven him for allegedly convincing Jacquet that he was too much trouble to take to Euro ‘96 – the year Cantona was at his absolute peak for Manchester United.
Three years ago, Karim Benzema had become involved in a bizarre and frankly amateurish plot to blackmail his own team-mate, Valbuena. Despite all the agitation for him to return, Deschamps stood firm. “I respect public opinion but it has absolutely no influence over my decisions,” he said.
When Benzema scored against Liverpool to ensure he won his third straight Champions League final with Real Madrid, Franck Ribery tweeted his congratulations, saying Benzema had been subject to “the longest red card in history”. Zlatan Ibrahimovic lent his support for the campaign to brink Benzema back.
The forward whom Deschamps trusts more than anyone else, the player he has selected most is Olivier Giroud. Benzema has more talent but Giroud is more stable to be around.
Zinedine Zidane, Benzema’s manager at Real Madrid, attempted to intervene. They had been team-mates at Juventus, where they would join their manager, Marcello Lippi, for long talks about tactics, conversations in which Zizou never said that much. They had won the World Cup together. Deschamps, however, was not going to budge.
He also discarded Martial, Alexandre Lacazette and Dimitri Payet, who was one of the inspirations behind France’s run to the final of the European Championships. When Payet’s mother was asked how her son discovered he would not be going to Russia, she said: “He found out by watching television like everybody else.”
When the final whistle went in Moscow’s Spartak Stadium after the goalless draw with Denmark, they would have yearned for any of these footballers. Then came Kazan, Argentina and Mbappe and maybe, just as he becomes their nation’s longest-serving manager, Deschamps may start to feel loved.
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