The former Nantes, Marseille and Juventus midfielder hasn’t had an easy ride during his time as Les Blues coach. From dressing room exiles to allegations of racism, injuries to non-starters, there has rarely been a dull moment in the French dug-out.
The Panenka looks at the big decisions the 47-year-old coach has had to make at Euro 2016.
The 1984 European Championship and the 1998 World Cup were both won on home soil, the latter of which the current France boss was captain for. The first Frenchman to lift the trophy aloft after a comprehensive 3-0 victory of reigning champions Brazil in the capital.
In Paris, on Sunday, Didier Deschamps is aiming to become only the second coach to win the European tournament as both a player and a coach. German Berti Vogts won the honor of completing the double first when he lifted the European Championships as a player in 1972 and coach in 1996.
The road to the final has been treacherous. While many pitfalls have tried to trip Les Blues on their quest to capture the nation’s 3rd ever European Championship, their coach and former-captain has shown broad shoulders in the face of an expectant and critical country, carrying the burden for his players.
Before Euro 2016 had even began Deschamps was at the center of a scandal after refusing to recall Karim Benzema. The Real Madrid striker was charged with conspiracy to blackmail Les Blues teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape, promptly the forward was exiled from the France set up.
The French Football Federation confirmed in April 2015 that Benzema would not be selected for the Euros, stating at the time: “The ability of players to work towards unity, within and around the squad, exemplarity and the preservation of the squad are also taken into account.”
As Deschamps announced his final 23-man squad without the inclusion of Benzema or Hatem Ben Arfa, the coach was met by a hurricane of racist accusations. The two players are of North African descent, Algeria and Tunisia respectively, leading to the immensely talented striker to tell Spanish newspaper Marca that the France boss “has bowed to the pressure of the racist part of France.”
With the nation of France still paranoid, left reeling and in a declared state of emergency after the horrific Paris terrorist attacks less than a year ago, the Real Madrid man’s comments were scathingly hurtful, even if largely untrue, especially in a country which used football to cure it’s racial and religious divides to such good effect in the 1998 World Cup triumph.
Fuelling the flames of racial disharmony in France the nation and France the national team was former international Eric Cantona. The Manchester United legend told The Guardian that he had his suspicion over why the aforementioned pair were not picked to represent France on home soil.
“Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player,” Cantona said. “But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know. Like the Mormons in America.
Adding: “So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after Valls said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that. Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.”
In response, Deschamps did not flinch and respectfully declined to comment. The coach had the full backing of the FFF (Federation Francasie de Football) and decided to take legal action against Cantona’s defamatory remarks. Furthermore, even Deschamps’ lawyer, Carlo Alberto Brusa, could point out that ‘Eric The King’ was talking merde. “This team is an example of diversity,” Brusa told L’Equipe. “It includes more players of foreign origin than 1998!”
Didier Deschamps fought his corner during the mudslinging contest before the European Championship began without really needing to say a word. Furthermore, Deschamps ahs held his nerve to make some big calls to guide France to the final, silencing the doubters who said he was not tactically efficient nor a strong enough judge of ability to take the reigns of the national team.
The Frenchman’s focus in the face of adversity has to be admired. Emotions in France are high. The subplots of a potent mixture of extremist attacks, political upheaval and social injustices had the potential to derail this France team but the coach has remained single-minded in his belief that a successful national team can cure a country’s ills.
In the aftermath of the 2-0 win over Germany Deschamps looked like a man who has seen this all before and until now, had been alone in actually believing that what he is beginning to see come to fruition was possible.
“We don’t have the power to solve the French people’s problems but we can ease their worries,” Deschamps said. Adding: “When you see the passion, inside and outside the stadium, this team has everything it takes to be loved, the players are performing well on the pitch and I’m very proud.”
In terms of performances, one of Deschamps’ achievements has been to overcome the challenges posed by a large number of French central defenders ruled out of tournament by injury.
Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma, Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, Valencia’s Jeremy Mathieu and Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte were all ruled out through injury leaving France short at the back for who will partner Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny. The choice was Sevilla’s Adil Rami, in reserve Manchester City’s Eliaquim Mangala and Samuel Umtiti were called into the squad.
When Rami received his second yellow card of the tournament in the 5-2 victory over Iceland it left the French coaching team with a decision to make for the semi-final grudge match with rivals Germany, Mangala or Umtiti.
The choice was the Barcelona bound Umtiti and he didn’t disappoint on a night were a new defensive star was born. For long periods of the game France were outplayed but thanks to the efforts of the 22-year-old the French goal was left largely unscathed on the way to a 2-0 victory.
As one of the stand out performers of the game the $20 million signing proved a revelation where he helped keep the French goal clear of any shots on target between the 25th and 93rd minute. Furthermore the former Lyon defender is likely to easily settle in Catalonia after displaying a wise composure in possession well beyond his tender years.
Another call Deschamps had been questioned on but had to wait wait for the final whislte to be proved right about was his decision to use the semi-final to shuffle his midfield pack, in particular demoting N’Golo Kante. The defensive midfielder was a champion with Leicester City last season but consigned to the bench against Germany when relegated Newcastle United man Moussa Sissoko got the nod instead. The choice was entirely tactical however, one that ultimately won the game and should see Deschamps handed a huge amount of credit.
The Former Monaco boss deployed Sissoko on the wing, dropped Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi to holding midfielders and started Antoine Griezmann in his most potent central midfield role, behind striker Olivier Giroud. The result of the masterstroke was a performance that Euro 2016 had been crying out for. The Atletico Madrid man scored twice to race to the top of the scoring charts and lob his hat firmly into the center of the ring for player of the tournament.
It seems like a lifetime ago now but Griezmann was actually dropped to the bench by Deschamps after a disappointing performance against Romania in the tournament’s curtain raiser. The diminutive striker was reinstated to the team before the group stages were out and has since gone on to be one of the shining stars of Euro 2016.
Deschamps, criticized as a coach, a written off as a tactician and doubted as a leader, has led France to a hairs breadth of lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy for the second time. In doing so he has brought the feelgood factor back to a scared and anxious country in a time of fear and media driven scaremongering.