• Sáb. Jul 13th, 2024

-> Noticias de futbol internacional

Didier Deschamps exclusive interview: France’s Euro 2024 hopes, Kylian Mbappe role and longevity

Didier Deschamps exclusive interview: France’s Euro 2024 hopes, Kylian Mbappe role and longevity

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If Didier Deschamps feels like he has been around forever it’s because, in French football terms, it is necessary to go back to the 1970s to find a decade when he was not involved with their national team.


That kind of longevity is extraordinary. He has become French football nobility. If there were a Duc or Marquis of Clairfontaine, as such, it should probably be him. When Deschamps made his debut for France in April 1989, the French Football Federation (FFF) was beginning to put together this new concept of a centre of excellence, which is now the heartbeat of the game across the country.

“I arrived at the same time as the buildings,” he laughs. “Now I live here.”

He doesn’t reside at Clairfontaine all the time though, and maybe that is part of the secret to his longevity — the ability to have a balance between the intensity of his working life and the relative normality of the rest of it. Deschamps’ family home is hundreds of miles away, near to the coast in the sunny south.

Compare his lifestyle over the past few years to, say, Jurgen Klopp, who ultimately realised he needed a break from the relentless, consuming, responsibility. It exemplifies the contrast between club and international management. At the top, there is high pressure and expectancy in both. But for Deschamps, it ebbs and flows, rather than living a life permanently balancing on the crest of an enormous, ferocious wave.

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His stint as France manager is exceptionally long by the standards of today’s football.

France are in a group at Euro 2024 this summer with Austria, the Netherlands and Poland. Their respective managers — Ralf Rangnick, Ronald Koeman and Michal Probierz — have, combined, three years and one month collectively in their current roles. Deschamps will hit 12 years during the tournament.

Such endurance is sustained for three reasons. Firstly, Deschamps’ love affair with France is deep. Immovable. Fierce. He is generally polite and straight in his role as head of coaching their elite, but you sense he would be a cunning fighter if necessary to protect his job. One day, it might be somebody else’s turn, but it is hard to envisage him pulling away gently.

He values the national side as his football pinnacle. “In my life, the French team took up a lot of space — in my first life as a player, and in my second life as a coach. But I always considered, even if I was in big clubs, that the French team was above everything.”

Deschamps playing for France in 1989 (Patrick Hertzog, Gerard Fouet/AFP via Getty Images)

Secondly, in competition, he is extremely driven. “To last, you need results,” he says pointedly. The gravest danger he faced came at the previous Euros three years ago when France jettisoned a position of control against Switzerland in the first knockout round (3-1 up, with 80 minutes played) and, with an absurd twist, suddenly blew up, conceded twice, then lost on penalties. Complacent? Maybe. But Deschamps withstood the worst of the criticism. Considering that blunder was sandwiched by his team being winners and then runners-up (after another shootout, with Argentina) at successive World Cups, it is easy to see why the FFF regard him as a very solid choice for the long term.

Thirdly, even though he is regarded as a fairly conservative coach, Deschamps tries not to stand still. “Sincerely, I have been through the different competitions that we have been able to participate in and we always learn from these experiences.”

Deschamps does not shy away from France’s position as, arguably, a super-favourite to win Euro 2024. “We have been world champion in 2018 and (World Cup) runners-up in 2022. It places the French team at the top of the hierarchy,” he says.

“Afterwards, when you look at the teams who are at the Euros, there are eight who are in the first 10 in the FIFA rankings. They can, logically and naturally, have the ambition to be able to be European champions. A European Championship is always very tough, very dense. A few years ago, we could have time to gain momentum. Today, you have to perform well from the start.”


That is one of his bugbears. The amount of time available to national teams to prepare for big tournaments in an increasingly compressed calendar. It is one of the aspects he feels has changed during his tenure as an international coach. “Everything evolves. The technology — look at VAR. Today, the intensity is certainly higher. The ability that players have to repeat high-intensity sprints leads to more injuries, and with a schedule that is increasingly busy, it is a concern.”

That brings him to the calculation of how many matches an international player who goes to the end of each competition for club and country might expect to play in a year. He makes sure to include the newest, expanded iteration of the Club World Cup, to be played every fourth summer starting in 2025. His answer is a whopping 92 matches. “The lack of recovery is obvious,” he says. “To prepare for Brazil 2014 (a World Cup), we had 28 days. Today…” he exhales, “we have to adapt.”

Managing Kylian Mbappe, naturally, tends to be at the top of a lot of conversations.

France’s current icon had gaps in his game time towards the end of last season with Paris Saint-Germain and was restricted to a late substitute appearance in France’s final pre-Euros warm-up friendly against Canada. He also had the whirlwind of his recent free-agent move to Real Madrid. But such is his ambition, Deschamps has no concerns about his captain’s capacity.

“He is always at the centre of things that won’t change,” Deschamps says. “Kylian knows very well that he will not do anything that goes against the collective interest. It won’t be any problem. He is in very good shape, very happy, and concentrated on working hard. We have to be careful with those who play every three days.”

Even though Mbappe has played often in a central position for his club, Deschamps tends to prefer him posted wider in the national team. “The most important thing is that he has the greatest possible freedom. He has the ability to play in all offensive zones. My objective is to put him in the best conditions, and put the team in the best conditions, so that he can be as effective as possible. He has a season with 44 goals, he could have done better. We can always do better. He is with us. He remains with us in terms of his state of form, his determination, his motivation.”

Deschamps has been full of praise for Mbappe since he took over as captain (Romain Perrocheau/AFP via Getty Images)

So, what kind of captain is he? “He speaks, he is radiant, but he is not there to be overbearing. Since he took over from Hugo Lloris as captain, it is going very well. He is with his friends. If you are not with him, you don’t see how he is with his partners on a daily basis. We can have interpretations which may be different. He has always been part of a collective project, even if he has this capacity that he is an extraordinary player who can make a difference on his own. He is in a collective experience, which is important. We spend more time off the field than on the field.”


Mbappe was full of praise on Friday for a coach he called a “super legend”. “He’s not the same coach he was when I arrived,” Mbappe told French newspaper Ouest-France. “He’s been able to evolve, while retaining his high standards and his principles, because, in my opinion, every coach will die with his principles, and that’s the basis of this profession.

“Whatever happens, he’s made an indelible mark on his time with the French national team. Now, if he wants to go down in history, we’ll have to do something about it this summer, because all he’s missing is the Euro as coach. After that, he’ll have ticked all the boxes.”

Clearly managing Mbappe is no problem for Deschamps. Managing a group of two dozen players with all their different foibles and characteristics, physically and psychologically, is a delicate business. Deschamps has always valued the balance of the people who come into his squad, and that helps to explain some of his choices. Olivier Giroud is 37 but still a fundamental influence. The decision to recall 33-year-old N’Golo Kante, who has been playing in Saudi Arabia and had not represented France since before Qatar 2022, was a surprise.

A FFF video of the two players meeting again at Clairfontaine, with so much warmth and shared experience in their exchange, demonstrated why Deschamps feels both have a lot to bring to the party.

Kante’s personality was adored within the 2018 World Cup winning squad and Deschamps described it as an “immense pleasure for everyone” to have him back in the camp, before adding, “he is not here to be nice”. The manager had no qualms about picking a player from a league that is regarded as less competitive than playing in Europe.

“I can assure you, I sometimes see matches in Spain, Italy, Germany which don’t always have great intensity. Yes, it’s 35C (95F in Saudi) and there’s humidity, but it doesn’t take away from what he’s capable of doing. What interests me is following him and how he is. He went there (from Chelsea as a free agent last summer) because he unfortunately came out of a season with injuries and if he hadn’t had those problems, he would have been with us for the World Cup. Now, apart from a small, two-week injury in November, he played matches every three to four days. So he has rediscovered his quality, which is well above the average.”

That midfield base Kante enjoyed with Paul Pogba was an immense driving force when France won the World Cup six years ago. Deschamps takes a moment to spare a thought for Pogba, another person he will always value, and who in different circumstances might also have found some kind of reintegration. Pogba’s situation makes him feel sad. “He’s also a player who, if he was fit, would have been with us at the World Cup. He’s had one year after another with injuries plus this legal problem, it’s very hard. There were also huge private and family problems. I hope he comes back, he has the mentality to do it. He will do everything. Then we will have to wait for the appeal decision.


“I know him well enough as a player; since he was here with us, since he was very young. I can’t imagine he could have deliberately taken something, that’s not the way he works. It has already been a long time — a year in August. I hope he can rediscover the happiness of being a footballer as soon as possible.”

Deschamps has always set great store by loyalty to players he trusts. That partly explains why he has been cautious about promoting William Saliba to the status of consistent starter. Although the debate is rising about whether the Arsenal defender can force his way to a more regular place in the France team, Deschamps feels he knows what he is getting from his main partnership of Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano. He likes his centre-back pairing to have an understanding — and that is something that really caught his eye about how Saliba connected with his club team-mate, Gabriel, this season. It has certainly added to the feeling that Saliba is making the kind of impact Deschamps wants. He admits he was “caught out a little” when he aired some criticism in the past, and is now firmly focused on what he can do in the present and future.

Deschamps has been cautious with Saliba (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

“William is one of the very best defenders in the Premier League. I want him to do what he does very well at Arsenal. He had a very, very good season. He played many matches, especially with his partner Gabriel, and they were a fundamental part of what Arsenal did this season, particularly in the defensive aspect. With us, he has not had the same playing time. There are automatisms which develop through playing matches together. You have repetition and understanding. With a national team, we always have so little time, but now they have the possibility of living together for a few weeks and that is even better.”

For Saliba, and maybe Warren Zaire-Emery, 18, or 21-year-old Bradley Barcola, this could be a breakout tournament. On this stage, it is about grabbing the opportunity and showing you belong at the highest level possible.

Deschamps made his debut for France late in the 1988-89 season.

He remembers it well. A tense 0-0 draw against the former Yugoslavia in World Cup qualifying at Paris’ Parc des Princes. (For those interested in useless but quirky trivia, he replaced Daniel Xuereb, a forward whose surname allowed him to go down in FIFA history for completing the alphabet of players to represent their countries at the World Cup.)

Deschamps, then a 20-year-old with boyhood club Nantes, was called up because of injuries to some of France’s most established players. He was thrown on with 13 minutes to go and immediately won a crunching tackle. Michel Platini-managed France, however, were whistled off at the end. It was not a great period for the national team. They did not qualify for Italia 90, or the next World Cup four years later.


Success is not guaranteed. Deschamps has personally been involved in two major tournament finals as a player and three as a manager but he does not take it for granted.

Before travelling to Germany, where France begin their group campaign against Austria in Dusseldorf on Monday, he took a moment to look at the stats for how long his contemporaries tend to last, to see who he might bump into during the tournament who has also been in situ for a while. “I appreciate seeing some who have also been there for a few years,” he says. From 23 other competing teams, the only faces he might meet at this Euros who were in place for the previous edition (and that was only three years ago, because of the delay to Euro 2020 caused by the pandemic) are England’s Gareth Southgate, Zlatko Dalic of Croatia, Hungary’s Marco Rossi and Kasper Hjulmand of Denmark.

Deschamps, 55, has a contract until the 2026 World Cup finals co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico and expects to be there in two years’ time — and possibly for longer. What next? Right now, he couldn’t care less.

“It’s not that I’m not interested. I don’t know, I don’t care about that. I don’t ask myself the question. I live, I focus on the moment. There are three titles today with a national team. It’s the World Cup, European Championship and Nations League. I have to do everything so that the French team remains where it is today — that is to say at the top.”

(Top photo: Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)