The shadow of Zidane: Does Deschamps have to win World Cup to save France job?
As if Didier Deschamps didn’t already have enough to worry about, Zinedine Zidane’s sudden availability after clinching a third Champions League crown in two-and-a-half years has left the France coach looking like little more than a sitting duck.
While Deschamps guided Les Bleus into positions of strength at both the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and then Euro 2016 on home soil, they ultimately came up empty. The loss in the final to a Portugal side shorn of Cristiano Ronaldo two years ago was particularly hard to take, with the boss admitting afterwards that “we’ve missed a unique opportunity to win a Euros in our own country. There are no words.”
The outlook barely improved during qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, with 0-0 draws against Belarus and Luxembourg and a late loss to Sweden all helping to underline the shortcomings of Deschamps and his squad.
- End the debate: Liverpool sensation Salah is the best player in the world right now
- 'One of the chosen ones' - How Gavi became a Barcelona and Spain star at just 17
- Solskjaer's structureless Man Utd side haven't a hope of fighting for the title based on Leicester capitulation
- The world's best goalkeeper? Chelsea hero Mendy right up there despite 'unacceptable' Ballon d'Or snub
They arrive in Kazan for their Group C opener against Australia on Saturday with expectation through the roof thanks in large part to the fact they have such a talented group of players available to them that Deschamps has been able to overlook the likes of Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette and Adrien Rabiot.
But anything other than a repeat of the 1998 World Cup win which saw Deschamps and Zidane join forces on the field might be considered a failure given all the factors working in the coach’s favour. He cannot even claim this to be anything other than a squad in his own vision given the fact there are 17 new faces from Les Bleus’ last tilt at world glory in Brazil four years ago. He really has no excuses not to get the best out of these players. They are young, but they are not short on club experience at the top of the game.
And that’s where Zidane comes in. Immediately after he announced his decision to leave Real Madrid at the beginning of June, links were made with Deschamps’ job. In many ways it is the perfect next step for a man who has just come out of a role which involves the brightest of spotlights on a daily basis. The ability to work at the less intense pace provided by international football may be just what ‘Zizou’ needs.
The way he led Madrid to repetitive Champions League glory whatever their outlook in La Liga showcased an ability to get the right amount out of players at the right time. They peaked when they needed to. It is an art few international bosses manage to display, and it is also seemingly what hasn’t quite been achieved with the French national team since Zidane was still a player.
Deschamps himself has admitted that he sees Zidane being the France coach sooner or later. “I don’t know what Zidane has decided. For now, I think he wants to enjoy his rest, his family and loved ones,” he told a press conference recently. “He will be coach at some point. When? I cannot say, but that seems logical to me. It will happen when it happens.”
Zidane has been non-committal regarding his plans going forward. “I’ve got my feet up and am feeling good,” he told reporters recently. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. The most important thing is the decision I’ve taken. The rest we’ll see.”
Deschamps has already had his contract renewed until 2020, which stands to make him the second-longest serving France coach since the pre-war days of selection committees. But it would surely take a triumph in Russia for him to reach the end of that deal.
“Didier Deschamps has a contract until 2020. He will stay until 2020,” insisted FFF president Noel Le Graet when he spoke to BFM TV recently, but there is a populist push within France for Zidane to be considered ahead of the inaugural UEFA Nations League which gets underway with a trip to Germany in September.
Deschamps is a natural competitor, but Zidane is arguably still the face of the footballing nation. Even in 1998 when Deschamps got to lift the World Cup as the skipper of Aime Jacquet’s side, Zizou was the man whose vision was emblazoned across the Champs Elysees. And a Google image search of that famous night 20 years on will bring you far more pictures of Zidane’s hands on the trophy than of Deschamps’.
If Deschamps returns to French soil after this tournament without the famous golden prize in his grasp once more then his days are surely numbered. He knows there is pressure. He knows there is an expectation of success.
“Positive pressure? I don’t know. I’m here, immersed in my group. My energy is focused on the major event that awaits us,” he said ahead of flying out to Russia.
“There will be a post-World Cup certainly. But I don’t ask myself that question. I remain focused and focused on what lies ahead with this group of players.
“It’s not me who holds the key, it’s my president.”
In truth it is results which will hold the key. And all seven of them, this time.