Time very much on France’s side with Mbappé the jewel in their crown

Deschamps’ victorious squad was the second youngest at the World Cup

France’s coach Didier Deschamps celebrates after the  World Cup final victory over Croatia at   the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty

France’s coach Didier Deschamps celebrates after the World Cup final victory over Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty

 

And fade to blue. On a stormy, slightly wild afternoon in Moscow France became world champions for the second time, providing a bookend to one victorious era and offering a seductive hint of another to come.

It seemed fitting that victory here was never really in doubt. This despite the attentions of a manically committed Croatia who seemed to be charging after something that just kept moving away, engine purring, geared to a higher rate of frequency.

Above all it was fitting that the most talented team in Russia should take the trophy at a gallop and in a manner that poses some obvious questions. Mainly, how have they done this? And how much better can they get?

There was a suggestion of an answer to both of these at the final whistle at the Luzhniki Stadium. As the referee Néstor Pitana blew to signify the dawning of the age of Didier an entire team of men who could probably also have won this tournament came sprinting on in formation, howling with joy, and hurling themselves into the arms of their fraternal peers.

The ages of the reserves running on were salutary: 21, 21, 22, 23, 25, 23. This France squad was the second youngest at the World Cup. And here is the other thing; thanks to the efforts of these academy graduates France can now claim to be the most powerful nation in world football in the past 20 years.

Spain’s brilliance was more powerfully concentrated and indeed more transformative. But France have appeared in five of the last 11 World Cups and Euro finals, winning three of them. Spain have played three, won three. Germany have played three, won one.

Given their resources there will be some wistful thoughts about France’s style. At the end here there was the tremendously funny sight of Didier Deschamps being given the bumps by his players, still stern and stiff and frowning as he flew high into the air, as though considering bringing on a third defensive midfielder even at the moment of his ultimate personal ascent.

Some will suggest that, even when they were scoring four here and in Kazan, this France team never really found its deepest attacking gears. What drove them on was Deschamps’s will, his obsession with shape and team combinations.

Eased away

In Antoine Griezmann’s set piece expertise, Paul Pogba’s easy craft and Kylian Mbappé’s extreme qualities of simply being like Kylian Mbappé France had enough controlled fantasy whenever their opponents showed signs of resistance. A brief word here about Mbappé. Blimey. Whoah. Cripes. Actually that is three. But you get the idea.

Croatia had more possession and more shots. France led 2-1 at half-time through an own goal and a debatable VAR penalty.

At which point this team pulled itself up to its full height and simply eased away.

Deschamps always had a golden ticket here, the greatest harvest of playing talent anywhere, tribute to the depth of the methods and structures of Clairefontaine and its 11 satellite academies.

There are other things, too. This is a nation that has always had a wider respect for the academic and the scholarly, and where even football coaches are promoted on the basis of intellect and methods, with little trace of the “practical man” template; the idea that only playing the game can confer authority.

The world has moved towards the French here. Elite football is increasingly a matter of prep and method and planning, the ability of players to learn and adapt and make their own decisions.

France showed these qualities right through this tournament, keeping to their structures, always seeming to have an extra gear. Even the most grating clichés often turn out to have a perverse kind of truth. And perhaps football really did come home at a World Cup won by the cradle of current European talent and by a nation that gave us this fun, thrilling, enduringly fine global beano in the first place.

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