DOHA – Already part of an exclusive trio – alongside Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer – who have won the World Cup as both player and coach, Didier Deschamps is two matches away from distinguishing himself from the pack.
The only coach to win consecutive World Cups was Vittorio Pozzo – who led Italy to the title in 1934 and 1938. But, unlike Deschamps, he never won it as a player.
The 54-year-old Frenchman will continue his historic quest against Morocco in their Qatar 2022 semi-final, where his Les Bleus are heavily favoured.
Said Brazilian two-time World Cup winner Ronaldo: “They are the favourites for the World Cup. They have a very solid team, whether in defence, attack or the middle... (Kylian Mbappe) reminds me a bit of myself when I was playing, he knows how to use his skills, how to go faster than other players and use it to pass or score.”
Should France become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to win back-to-back World Cups, we should not be too surprised.
Deschamps’ career is littered with a trail of shiny pots and pans.
Not bad for someone compatriot Eric Cantona derisively dubbed “the water-carrier” during his playing days.
As a player, Deschamps won the Champions League with Marseille and Juventus, reached a final with Valencia and won titles in Italy, France and England.
On the international scene, he captained France to the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship two years later.
His record as a coach is not too shabby either, a Champions League final with unfancied Monaco in 2004, a European Championship final with France in 2016, before triumphs at World Cup 2018 and the 2021 Nations League.
Former France and Juventus teammate Lilian Thuram, whose son Marcus is part of France’s squad in Doha, told The Straits Times in November it was no surprise that Deschamps evolved into a successful coach.
He said: “Even when he was playing, he was very analytical and had a 360-degree vision of the game and how to improve everyone on the team.
“It wasn’t a surprise to see him become a trainer and be successful with the national team.”
Deschamps’ analytical football mind has been on display in Doha. As gloriously talented as France are, not many coaches would be able to refashion their side after the injury-induced absence of Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema, the first-choice midfield of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, starting left-back Lucas Hernandez and budding starlet Christopher Nkunku.
But the coach found solutions, not excuses. Olivier Giroud has led the line efficiently with four goals in four games, becoming his nation’s record scorer in the process; at left-back, France kept it in the family with Theo Hernandez and, in midfield, Deschamps forged a new partnership with the previously maligned Adrien Rabiot and the raw Aurelien Tchouameni.
But perhaps his masterstroke has been to drop forward Antoine Griezmann into midfield. Griezmann has been indefatigable. He laid off three assists, has fashioned more chances (18) than anyone else at Qatar 2022 and is a strong contender for the Golden Ball.
On Tuesday, Deschamps said: “He is playing in a different role but it is one that suits him.
“He takes as much pleasure from winning a tackle as from playing a pass and has always thought about the team as a whole.”
As for Deschamps, he has gone from being water-carrier to champagne-filled trophy deliverer.