Didier Deschamps: The most undervalued manager in the world?

There is a feeling even now as Didier Deschamps leads France to his 150th and 151st game in charge of the nation that the manager has never quite been appreciated as one of the coaching greats. 

Despite taking France to two consecutive World Cup finals, winning their first against Croatia before being only a few spot kicks away from defeating Argentina in their second, there has always been a lingering question about his talents that suggests he happens to be the right person at the right time. 

The man fortunate enough to be in charge of a French golden generation, an era where they could rely on a squad that appeared to have no weaknesses, a team that in each position was loaded with the kind of quality that some nations can only dream of possessing. 

The grand criticism of ‘The Water-Carrier’ 

Unlike in the club game, where if there is a weakness in the team, then the problem can be fixed with money. Your left-back isn’t any good? Go buy another one. If a national side has a flawed position, then they have to live with that limitation, until a player emerges to fix it. It’s supposed to be the one natural balance in international football.

For Deschamps, the criticism is that he has never had the kind of dilemma that other managers have, he has been blessed with extraordinary choices across his 12-year tenure. When the first option falls, there is always a second, a third, and often even a fourth to take their place. 

Ahead of the 2022 World Cup, stalwart midfielder N’Golo Kanté (32) fell to injury. It was the kind of problem that would significantly dent the hopes of almost any other national side’s hopes for the tournament. For Deschamps, he could turn to Aurélien Tchouaméni (24). 

It’s a point levelled at the manager that is not only unfair but actively ignores one of the key strengths that Deschamps has brought to this French side. A strength that has turned a talented but self-destructive national team into one of the juggernauts of the game. 

Deschamps and the pursuit of balance

When Deschamps eventually leaves the role as France manager he will not be spoken of as one of the great tactical minds. Unlike managers like Johan Cruyff, Arrigo Sacchi, and Pep Guardiola, he has not and will not change the way the game has been played. There will be no acolytes; zealous in their devotion to the football his France played. 

And that is in a way part of why he has been so successful for so long. He is a manager dedicated to the least glamorous parts of the game. The parts that do not sell books or fuel long-form analysis. Deschamps is entirely dedicated to the pursuit of balance in his side. 

In 2018, this saw the manager reconfigure his squad after a narrow victory over Australia in the first game of the competition from a 4-3-3 into a 4-2-3-1 that dropped Ousmane Dembélé (26) for Blaise Matuidi on the left flank. It was a decision derided at the time for being negative, taking one of the best wingers in the side and replacing him with a central midfielder. 

What the team found with this unorthodox change was a sense of balance that fundamentally shifted the nature of the team. Kylian Mbappé (25) was freed from his defensive responsibilities on the right of the attack allowing him to have a breakout performance at the tournament, as he demonstrated his unique offensive abilities to devastating effect. 

‘We have the greatest coach in French football in place until 2026’

The amount of quality on offer was not enough for France to become successful, they needed someone to organise the parts, and to see that it could all work to one coherent goal. That has been Deschamps’s enduring strength. 

It is why the president of the French Football Federation was so keen to dismiss any questions about Deschamps’ future in the role if France were to have a disappointing summer EUROS. Speaking to Le Figaro, Diallo stated, “We have the greatest coach in French football in place until 2026.” 

To the president, there would be no question of change. How could there be? France has never had it so good, and there is no guarantee that in the future they will have it quite so good again. Golden generations are fickle things, and success is never guaranteed, just ask Belgium and England. And yet under Deschamps, they have found a way of reaching continual success. 

However, still, questions are asked of a manager who has achieved more for France than any that has come before him, and still, the spectre of Zinedine Zidane waiting to capitalise on any shortcoming looms always in the background. 

It leaves the idea that in France and across the world, there is no manager less appreciated and less valued for what he has achieved, than the only living person to have won the World Cup as a player and a manager. As Bertrand Latour stated of Deschamps, “If he was English, he would already be Sir Didier.”


GFFN | Nick Hartland

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