Didier Deschamps was dismissed as nothing more than “water carrier”.
It was a menial task, implied Eric Cantona – in his own unique and poetic lexicon – a role reserved for those who didn’t have the talent to do much else.
Men like Deschamps were merely workers, cadets charged with ferrying the cargo to the admirals upstream; admirals like Cantona, who would take the wheel and sail off into the sunset.
But that young cadet would see a fair few sunsets of his own, time and again finding himself lying on deck after another gruelling day’s work beneath his own lucky star. After all, as the French say, Deschamps was born under a “bonne etoile”.
Raised in Bayonne, in South-Western France, the little general played rugby as a youngster before his influence on the football field began sparking the interest of local scouts. Even at a young age, his steely resolve, tactical intelligence and undying commitment to the cause had set him apart.
Deschamps would be the first to admit that, even at a young age, it wasn’t talent alone that earned him a career in the game.
"I think Didier is an example to players who want to succeed even though they maybe haven't been given a special gift from God," his former France and Chelsea colleague Franck Leboeuf told the Independent.
And Deschamps agrees. “I was never going to be a talented player like [Zinedine] Zidane, or [Alessandro] Del Piero,” he told The Cambridge Student. “So, I compensated for that flaw by being extremely hard working, and helping my team in every way that I could.”
After rising through the ranks for his local club in the Basque region, Deschamps’ hard work earned him a move to Nantes, where future mentor Jean-Claude Suaudeau would hand him a Ligue 1 debut in 1985.
He would make over 100 Ligue 1 appearances for the club before his big break in 1989, when he secured a transfer to Marseille to link with up with Cantona and win two Ligue 1 titles.
Daschamps made 17 league appearances in his first season at the club as OM brought little Didier his first Championnat crown. A loan spell with Bordeaux followed but Deschamps returned in 1991-92, missing just two league games as Marseille reclaimed the title.
At the base of the midfield, Deschamps was pivotal. He stuck around to win the UEFA Champions League in the following season, captaining the side past Fabio Capello's great AC Milan side in the final.
A match-fixing scandal then shook the club, and French football, to its core. Marseille were not allowed to defend their European title and, in 1994, were administratively relegated to Ligue 2.
He’d long since made his international debut and was about to take on a leading role there, too, taking the captaincy from a wayward Cantona in what is believed to have been the moment that sparked their personal feud.
While Cantona would never play for his country again, Deschamps went on to captain les Bleus to the World Cup on home soil in 1998, before following it up with the European Championships two years later.
The little man from Bayonne had carried the water to the promised land. “You can't have artists everywhere,” said Lebouf. “You need players who work for others and nobody does that better than Didier."
The cadet had risen to through the ranks to the very top. “1998 was without doubt not only the greatest honour of my career, but also my life,” said Deschamps, the new Amiral de France.