France coach Deschamps on verge of history
Moscow - Didier Deschamps has a reputation in France for being lucky, but if he leads his country to World Cup glory on Sunday he will become just the third man in history to lift the trophy as player and coach.
Luck, then, is far from the only asset of the man who will lead his country into the final against Croatia in Moscow, just as he captained the winning France side on home soil in 1998.
“I am probably often in the right place at the right time, I can’t complain. There are bound to be others who are better than me, and some who are worse as well,” said Deschamps, who is depicted in cartoons in the French press with an enormous blue cat, an animal associated with luck.
“One can say he has a lucky star, but he also deserves credit,” former France star Alain Giresse said.
Deschamps has taken France to their second straight major tournament final, giving them the opportunity to make up for their bitter defeat at the hands of Portugal at the Euro 2016 tournament hosted in France.
Then, after seeing Portugal lose Cristiano Ronaldo to injury in the first half, luck deserted his side as Andre-Pierre Gignac hit the post late in the game and they ended up losing in extra time.
In Russia, France were handed a group-stage draw that many saw as lucky, against modest opponents in Denmark, Australia and Peru. Fortune also shone on Les Bleus in the quarter-finals, when they beat a Uruguay side deprived of Edinson Cavani because of injury.
“It is something that few coaches have. He has won with France, he was a great player, a captain, a leader,” said midfielder Paul Pogba of the luck factor.
However, he has also built a solid side around a fearsome defence that has notably shut out both Uruguay and Belgium in the last two rounds to reach the final.
The style of play brings criticism, especially from those outside France who look on enviously at the wealth of attacking talent at his disposal, led by Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.
Deschamps, who turns 50 later this year, could surely be more expansive, but his style of play brings results.
“If I get that star, I don’t care about how we play,” said Griezmann, referring to the star that will be sewn onto the French shirt if they win the trophy.
There was never much that was glamorous about Deschamps’ playing style — Eric Cantona famously described him as a “water carrier” — but his was a glorious career.
After the World Cup triumph, the little midfielder also skippered his country to glory at Euro 2000. Before that he won the Champions League with Marseille and Juventus.
As young coach, he took Monaco to a Champions League final in 2004 and won the French title with Marseille in 2010.
He has carried on getting results with France after taking over from Laurent Blanc in 2012, and during this World Cup the man from the Basque country became the longest-serving coach of the national team.
Progress has not always been smooth, with France almost losing to Ukraine in a play-off in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, before eventually going out to Germany in the quarter-finals.
The build-up to Euro 2016 was overshadowed by Karim Benzema’s exclusion from the squad over his alleged involvement in a blackmail affair involving a sextape and France colleague Mathieu Valbuena.
Now, though, he is just one win away from following in the footsteps of Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, who also won the World Cup as a player and a coach.
“Luck is something you make for yourself too,” added Pogba. “I don’t think it will have a big role in this match. The better and more determined team, the more disciplined one, will win.”