Deschamps ‘a water carrier’ who can stir France’s footballing soul

The former French midfielder and captain is a clever, driven man and a French good-luck charm

France’s  head coach Didier Deschamps kicks a ball during a training session at the Botafogo soccer club’s Santa Cruz stadium. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

France’s head coach Didier Deschamps kicks a ball during a training session at the Botafogo soccer club’s Santa Cruz stadium. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

Thu, Jul 3, 2014, 11:57

For a man once belittled by Eric Cantona as “a water carrier,” Didier Deschamps has certainly made a habit of carrying lots of trophies. French reporters like to ask Deschamps, now the French national team manager, if he was born under a “bonne etoile,” a lucky star.

But there is clearly much more than good karma and good timing involved at this stage of the game. He was captain of the French team that won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship and a key player for Marseille and then Juventus when each club won the Champions League.

In his first job as a manager, he took Monaco to the Champions League final, and in his first season at Olympique Marseille, he guided the club to its first French league title in 18 years.

He has had his share of setbacks, both professional and personal, including the death of his older brother in a plane crash when Deschamps was a teenager. He has had his character-building journeys through the soccer desert.

But no Frenchman in the sport that France likes best has ever had his kind of consistent success. “I’ve always hated to lose and I continue to hate it,” Deschamps, 45, said this week.

“But I’ve been obliged to accept it because I also have had some crushing defeats. I do everything I can to win but ultimately it comes down to very little. My players need to have the feeling that they’ve pushed themselves to their limits.”

They already may have gone as far as they can in Brazil. Germany, more experienced and more impressive in recent tournaments, will be the favorite against Deschamps’ French team in the quarterfinals in Rio’s Maracana stadium.

But there have been some visible cracks in the German facade, and Les Bleus are unquestionably in a better place than they were before Deschamps took charge in 2012 or when they were faltering last autumn. They are also now staying true to their bust-and-boom pattern in World Cups.

They failed to qualify, devastatingly, in 1994, losing on a last-gasp Bulgarian goal. They then won it all at home in 1998, beating Brazil by 3-0 in the final in the Stade de France with Deschamps, as captain, holding the Cup aloft first.

In 2002, with an all-star cast that included Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, the French were upset by Senegal in their opening match and failed to get past the first round.

Then in 2006, they roared back to the final, losing to Italy in a match better remembered for Zidane’s expulsion after his head butt of Marco Materazzi than for the penalty kicks that decided it.

In 2010, the French duly struck bottom again with a player revolt against manager Raymond Domenech, the same cryptic man who had taken them to the 2006 final, and another first-round exit.

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