A year ago on this exact date, France were crowned World champions in Russia, claiming the trophy for the second time in their history, the first time being at home in 1998. Didier Deschamps is the only French footballer to have gold medals from both World Cups, one as captain and another as manager.
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Deschamps was not only instrumental in bringing two World Cups home for France but also captained Les Bleus to their Euro 2000 triumph. He is also the only french player to have captained a french team to a Champions League victory, winning in style with Marseille in 1993.
When you think of the French national team, people think of Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane or Thierry Henry. These days, we associate Les Bleus with Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann. I daresay Deschamps is the most important and underrated contributor to French football.
Hardly a player who would dazzle with dribbles, Deschamps earned the nickname “water-carrier” from Eric Cantona due to him being the hardest working player in his teams. A disciplined and very effective defensive midfielder, Deschamps also possessed a rare footballing intelligence and lead his players by example.
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After a trophy-laden career in four of Europe’s top five leagues, which yielded two Champions Leagues and five league titles among others, Deschamps turned to coaching. Against all odds, he led Monaco to the Champions League final, taking down Real Madrid in the process but losing the cup to a young Jose Mourinho’s Porto. This achievement is quite impressive since this was well before Dmitry Rybolovlev invested millions in Monaco.
The French manager then moved to Juventus after his former club was relegated in the Calciopoli scandal and brought them back to Serie B in his first season. Soon after, he left the Bianconeri due to a difference of opinion on how to move the club forward. He signed for yet another former club, Marseille, where he had already made history as a player, and delivered six trophies.
Then came Deschamps’ biggest chance as a coach, back with the nation team, looking to repeat his heroics of 1998 and 2000. France was a spent force at that point. Having spread the 1998 and 2000 team like a thin slice of butter on too much bread until 2006, Les Bleus had a dismal period in World football from 2007 to 2012.
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The 2010 World Cup was the lowest point for the country when Nicolas Anelka was sent home from the tournament in South Africa for insulting coach Raymond Domenech, eventually leading to players refusing to train. Laurent Blanc tried to right the ship at Euro 2012 but France’s tournament was ended early by eventual champions Spain, with the campaign marred by rumors of Ben Arfa being disrespectful to the coach and other similar stories.
All this would end as soon as Deschamps took over from Blanc.
Never one to take nonsense from anybody, Deschamps gave everybody a chance to start with a clean slate but over his tenure, which is still ongoing, has continuously warned his players that anybody who would risk adversely affecting the team chemistry would not be selected. So far, he has been true to his word.
What people do not realize is that Deschamps models his team on the way he was as a player. Giroud might very well have been one of France’s “water-carrier”s at Russia 2018, just like his coach was 20 years ago.
With his trophy count as a player and manager, he can already be considered France’s most influential football person.