The Quiet Man

Sebastien Ginet and Michael Fotis 26 October 2009

Sebastien Ginet and Michael Fotis catch up with World Cup winner Didier Deschamps

Didier Deschamps is a legendary footballer, most celebrated as captain of the World Cup winning French team of 1998. Now a manager, he continues to demonstrate an astounding gift for the great game. In his first year as a Head Coach, Deschamps led Monaco to the French League Cup title. In his second year he led Monaco to the final of the Champions League. While this record would proudly cap any great life in football, Monsieur Deschamps achieved this six years ago – at the age of 35.

Despite being described by Zinedine Zidane as a ‘’quiet man”, Deschamps would have plenty to say in an exclusive interview with The Cambridge Student (TCS).

He started playing football in his home town, Bayonne. His potential was first spotted by Nantes, with whom he began his professional career in 1985. He transferred to Marseille in 1990 where his potential quickly became apparent. He was part of the Marseille team which became the first, and so far only, French winners of the UEFA Champions League. He remains the youngest ever captain to win the Champions League.

As captain of Juventus he collected every available Italian trophy, and captained his beloved French team in the successful World Cup campaign of 1998, as well as Euro 2000 – thus becoming the first team to ever win the World Cup and the European Championship consecutively.  His final years as a player were spent with Chelsea and Valencia, which served to enhance his knowledge of the football world.

He started his management career immediately after retiring from Valencia, as Head coach of As Monaco. Following two successful seasons, he moved to Juventus where he managed to win the Serie B, thus taking the Bianconeri back where they belonged, the Calcio. After a brief interlude as a pundit for French TV, Deschamps returned to coaching, accepting the position of Head Coach at his former club, Olympique Marseille. Under his leadership, the team are currently 5th in Ligue 1.

With the World Cup in South Africa coming up next June, every English fan is hoping that Fabio Capello is the right man for the job. Deschamps believes that Capello is ‘’a fantastic coach”. ‘’His career in football management and his extensive and varied success over the years speaks for itself. He has brought the necessary rigor to the English defence. He knows better than anyone that without a physical and firm defence it will not be possible for England to go very far in the competition.” He continues by saying that “the English team will be, without doubt, one of the biggest contenders for the ultimate title in South Africa.”

Good news for the English, but as a Frenchman, I also asked him about the French team, and their controversial coach, Raymond Domenech. “We need to stop criticising Domenech, this is not the time to so. We need, coaches, players, journalists as well as all French people to be behind our team for their two matches against Ireland. Our team has great talent, with players from Europe’s leading clubs. I have no doubt that if we qualify, we will be one of the teams that will have a shot at winning the World Cup.”

Deschamps describes his time at Chelsea as “a fabulous experience.” “I very much enjoyed living in London, as well as playing in such a challenging league. Being on the same team as Marcel Desailly once again was also a pleasure. My only regret was in joining the club and the Premier League too late in my career, as I could no longer maintain the necessary fitness and physical edge to merit a year-round starting spot in the first team. I love the English atmosphere around football, and the fact that fans from every club do not hesitate to travel all around the country, and cheer their players all the way throughout the game, even when they’re losing. I hope one day French fans can be a bit more like yours.”

He continued by insisting that, “today your league is the best, and most interesting to follow in the world. You have most of the best players and presently four, maybe five, fantastic teams. You need to understand how lucky you are to be able to enjoy such a high level of football week in, week out. I would like to mention one thing I particularly love about the teams of the English Premier League. Take this Saturday at Old Trafford. Bolton were playing away, against one of the greatest teams in the world, but were not afraid to create chances, and take the risks to score goals. This is also my philosophy of playing football, and I would enjoy myself much more every week in France if the Boltons of the French league also followed this philosophy.”

Captaining the first French team to win both the World Cup and the European Championship “was without doubt not only the greatest honour of my career, but also my life. To lead your national team to the ultimate title at home, and witness the crazy atmosphere and fabulous enthusiasm from your fellow countrymen was just unbelievable. Watching the television in our hotel at 4 am, and seeing 2.4 million people celebrating from La concorde to l’arc de Triomphe, and all the way throughout the Champs Elysees made us realise the extent of our success.”

As a teammate at Juventus, and as part of the French Team, Deschamps built a close relationship with one of the greatest players of all time, Zidane. ‘’He is the best player I ever played with, and the second best to ever play this game after Maradona. He was at times, the Picasso of football. When he arrived from Bordeaux in the summer of 1996, I helped him to acclimatise as quickly as possible to Juventus, and the Italian Calcio. But the period of adaption was quickly over, and he soon began leading the team on the field, and Juve became his team. Playing with, and supporting, Zidane was one the most incredible and enjoyable moments of my career.”

This so-called “quiet man” has nevertheless always been a leader, proving his importance in the locker room, amongst his teammates. The current coach of Marseille comments that, “I was never going to be a talented player like Zidane, or Del Piero, so I compensated for that flaw by being extremely hard working, and helping my team in every way that I could. Being a leader has always been in my blood, and is probably why Arsene Wenger and Gerard Houllier said that I would go into football management after my playing-career was over. I have to say that was always what I intended to do.”

In his first season as Head Coach of Olympique Marseille, Deschamps has quite a task ahead of him. I would betray no secret by saying that the fans hope that his comeback will bring the glory days back to the club. This is a task he relishes. “My goal is to win the French League this season. Olympique Marseille hasn’t won a single title since 1993, it has been way too long, and it is time to put an end to that. We also hope to go as far as possible in the Champions league but with AC Milan and Real Madrid in our group it certainly won’t be easy. We are playing in Zurich on Wednesday night, and in order to remain contenders for the next ground, we have no choice but to win. Being back at Marseille is a blessing, as well as a fantastic challenge. I will do my best to cope with the fans’ aspirations.” Forget the cliché about adding more trophies to the cabinet. At the age of 41, it seems that Monsieur Deschamps has time for a few more cabinets.

Sebastien Ginet and Michael Fotis