This has already been a Football World Cup of records for France, who are chasing the 3rd title in fewer than a quarter of a century on Sunday. The captain, Hugo Lloris, will celebrate his 145th cap against Argentina, 3 additional than the earlier record holder, Lilian Thuram. Olivier Giroud equaled, then surpassed, the 52 goals that Thierry Henry had scored for Les Bleus. Antoine Griezmann, 1 of this tournament’s standout performers, has today played a barely credible 72 consecutive competitions for France.
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Then there is Didier Deschamps, who will be trying to succeed in the Football World Cup for the 3rd time to go level with Pele, the only other person to have completed that achievement. Deschamps, is one of only 3 men, the others being Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, to become a Football world champion as a director and as a player; Deschamps who, if France success on Sunday, will have a legitimate right to be considered the most decorated man in the past of the match; Deschamps, who only linked a football club at the age of 11, and has certainly made up for missing time since then.
He had barely ever left his native Basque state when he became a boarder at La Joneliere, the sports center where Nantes housed its young players. He was fourteen at the time, 250 miles off from home. He felt lonely, and fearful, as the boys he roomed with, most of whom were much older than him, did not hide their hate of the wonder boy whom a number of high-profile clubs had fought over previously the teenager’s family had opted for the Breton club.
For the initial but certainly not the previous time in his life, Deschamps had to fight off the bullies to impose himself; and if he completes, it was not just down to his strong point of will, but also cheers to a man 30 years his senior, Jean-Claude Suaudeau (Coco to everybody), a key player of Jose Arribas’s great 1960s Nantes side, who had just taken over the club’s senior squad.
The age gap does not seem to have mattered either. The older man was struck by his protege’s unsatisfied appetite for knowledge, as well as by his intellect and his natural air of power, creation him the captain of one of the top squads in France at the age of 19, at a time when several of Les Canaris were full internationals.
The younger one, who would look out from a dormitory window to view when Coco was walking his dog, and then would rush to join him, relished being taught by one of French football’s most eloquent coaches, the quasi-mystic who had refined and perfected the jeu a la nantaise, which, to quote its inceptor Arribas, was “not a system, but a state of mind in which each player must put his belief in his fellow player and attempt to merge his own self in a complete.
On the field of play, this was translated especially when Suaudeau became a head trainer of the side into a style of play that verged on the poetic. Suaudeau’s Nantes was ravishing to view, a living organism that moved as one, as if through liquid air; and Deschamps, hard as it can be to fathom now, was a portion of this work of art.
Yet Deschamps, a product of the Ecole nantaise that he is, Suaudeau’s spiritual son that he could have been, was to become one of football’s arch-pragmatists, at ease with the knowledge that he would often have to negate his impulses and qualities to do well. The midfielder whom Eric Cantona derided as a “water carrier” had started as a prolific striker and, according to Suaudeau, could have played in all positions on the field. But he found that it was from midfield that he could assert his authority on the game; so, a midfielder he turned himself into.
Deschamps is the trainer who, in his initial managerial character, made Monaco one of Europe’s most attractive attacking sides and took them to a Champions League final in 2004, but was sacked a little done a year later, subsequently his squad, bereft of three of its best players, Jerome Rothen, Ludovic Giuly, and Fernando Morientes, unsuccessful to qualify for the similar rivalry. Lesson learned. A manager only is present through his conclusions, he said.
This would have been anathema to Suaudeau, and possibly even to the young Deschamps, but the young Deschamps would not stay with his mentor long sufficient for Coco’s knowledge to turn into articles of faith. He was sold, just as all of the better nantais graduates were sold Karembeu and Desailly and Makelele and completed up at Marseille.
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There his bond with the owner, Bernard Tapie, was so fractious, contrary to what Cantona advanced suggested, that Deschamps just like Cantona was directed on loan to Bordeaux and had to compete like mad, again, to recover his place at Marseille when Tapie was bent on getting rid of him. Deschamps won and became a European champion in 1993. When he moved to Juventus a year later, a serious Achilles wound forced him to sit out 6 months of his initial time there and, again, he had to fight; and again, he won, to the extent that his director, Marcello Lippi, trusted him further than anybody, as well as Antonio Conte, to be his messenger on the pitch.
Whereas for Suaudeau, who defines himself as an educator, winning is “powerful but ephemeral”, for Deschamps, the born competitor, “pleasure can only exist in achievement”. The most revealing word here, of course, has to be only. The two men met again in 2012 at the invitation of France Football magazine, just as Deschamps was about to do well with Laurent Blanc as the head of the France national squad. Put in the existence of a man he still revered, Dede lowered his guard as he rarely did then, and never does today.
I know that growth also means going through disappointment, he told his mentor, But, nowadays, high-level football [‘le football de Haut niveau, an expression which pops up in all of his press sessions] is about winning. When I stopped playing, I asked myself the question: Do I need to become a trainer? And, directly above all, what type of football trainer? Pass on what I know to the young ones?’ After all, I’d been through, I couldn’t be pleased with that. Unbearable. I wouldn’t have been correct to myself.” To which Suaudeau answered I never said you as an educator. That’s because you’re not convincing sufficient. You’re a fantastic victor, but not a persuader.”
Yet Suaudeau’s lesson has not been completely lost on Deschamps, judging by the way he has managed to take a team riddled with wounds, previously and during the tournament, to another consecutive Football World Cup final, with something that could, almost, pass for abandon when related to France’s fun-free method to earlier tournaments.
He’s watched far further relaxed. He’s been seen smiling. France has played with extra freedom and mind’s eye than they have for quite a while in a proper rivalry. Deschamps has not clipped Kylian Mbappe’s wings to compensate for Theo Hernandez’s obvious defensive frailties. Griezmann has dazzled in a protean character that appears to have been of his director’s design. Answering his player, who had said that all match, every move is like a thank you I direct [the director]”, Deschamps noted I don’t have to love my players, sounding similar to a gruff drill police sergeant who has just been given a beautiful Christmas current by his squaddies and can’t quite hide how chuffed he is by it all. I’m not about to conversation about love for my players.
I don’t have to sweetheart them I have to know them. With Antoine, as with other players who’ve been now for a long time, a bond of trust has grown up. And what was it that Arribas said the foundation of the jeu a la nantaise was? “Not a system, but a state of mind in which each player must put his trust in his fellow player and attempt to merge his own self in a complete. Maybe the lesson was taught after all.
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