France coach Didier Deschamps embodies Michel Platini’s dictum that football is all about control, and he has brought those skills learnt as the 1998 WC-winning captain to the current French squad. While some have queried whether statements from players about being happy and enjoying living together, not to mention their almost choreographed communal celebrations after scoring goals, are directed by Deschamps so as to firmly cast into the shadows the debacle of the 2010 finals, he firmly denies it.
“I am not controlling the players with a joystick,” he said. Certainly there has been much to celebrate thus far in the finals with eight goals in two games and a point against Ecuador on Wednesday will guarantee them top spot in Group E.
The 45-year-old set the tone with his decision to leave the disruptive Samir Nasri out of his squad, showing he was willing to sacrifice talent for a happy ship. That was something his two predecessors, Raymond Domenech at the 2010 finals and then Laurent Blanc at Euro 2012 — where Nasri failed to repay his faith by being involved in two unsavoury incidents — failed to take into account.
His attitude has met with no complaints from his employers the French Football Federation, who themselves lost a president because of the shenanigans at the 2010 WC finals as Jean-Pierre Escalette fell on his sword just months after he had taken the credit for France’s successful bid for the 2016 European C’ships.
“He (Deschamps) is at times close to the players, tough when he needs to be, but consistent,” commented the current president Noel Le Graet. This sense of proportion has been seen with how Deschamps, who last year bemoaned the modern generation of players who felt as if they had been robbed when they were told to leave their mobile phones at reception at the training base in Clairefontaine, dealt with their usage of social media during the finals.
Unlike Russia’s disciplinarian coach Fabio Capello, Deschamps did not impose a blanket ban, just counselled them to use it but to be careful of what they tweeted or posted on Facebook — it has worked in his favour as the large numbers of ‘selfies’ being posted of happy smiling players has also boosted his image with the public.
Deschamps, though, while firm in his principles and beliefs, is not opposed to changing his mind as he showed with playmaker Mathieu Valbuena. The diminutive winger has gone from being initially shunned by Deschamps when he was previously coach of Marseille to being, in the absence of Nasri and Franck Ribery — ironically two players who made Valbuena’s life a misery at the Ligue 1 club — his chief creative player at the finals.
Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud is a good example of what Valbuena attested to. He failed to make the starting line-up for the opening game against Honduras despite claiming he deserved a place, but he did not go away and sulk — as would likely have been the case in the 2010 squad — and was rewarded with a place in the starting XI for the following game against the Swiss, scoring a goal to boot.
France are vowing no let up of their thrilling attacking style as they seek to storm into the Last 16 against Ecuador. Deschamps’ side have been one of the revelations of the tournament so far, bagging eight goals in two games to all but seal qualification from Group E.
A draw in Wednesday’s game at the Maracana Stadium would be enough to clinch first place and avoid a probable meeting with Argentina in the last 16.
But France full-back Mathieu Debuchy says his team-mates will aim to finish with a flourish to maintain momentum. “We need to avoid taking our foot off the gas even if there is not a huge amount at stake,” Debuchy said.
France’s comfortable position means Deschamps can shrug off the loss of suspended midfielder Yohan Cabaye, with Lille’s Rio Mavuba set to come in.Deschamps can also contemplate replacing centre-back Mamadou Sakho — who came off against the Swiss with a thigh problem — with Laurent Koscielny.