Entry to an exclusive club awaits Didier Deschamps.
Victory in Sunday’s final at Luzhniki Stadium will see him join Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer as the only figures in history to lift the World Cup as both player and head coach. Some achievement, even in a storied career that already makes him one of football’s most-decorated figures.
When Deschamps laid the platform for the incomparable Zinedine Zidane to down Brazil 20 years ago at a partisan Stade de France, murmurs of discontent about his approach were largely restricted to maverick former team-mate Eric Cantona and his indelible “water carrier” jibe.
Fast forward to the present and, well, expectations are somewhat different.
Rather than lining up alongside many of the globe’s great idols, he now manages them. With Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and L’enfant prodigue Kylian Mbappe, a significant – and sonorous – constituency in the French public and media demands bedazzling football.
Instead, we witness a star-studded team styled in the minimalist image of their leader. They suffocate, rather than shimmer.
From this viewpoint, Euro 2016’s 1-0 showpiece defeat to weakened Portugal acts as incontrovertible evidence of Deschamps’ ultimate futility as a leader.
A reversal suffered on home soil, watched – from the 25th-minute mark – by the injured Cristiano Ronaldo and won by underdogs let off the hook when they should have been euthanised.
Raw memories for Deschamps. But not ones that have deigned him to change tactics. The 49-year-old is not for turning. Not now, not on Sunday versus Croatia, not ever.
“I have carried a lot of water in my time,” he once remarked. “But those buckets have been filled with trophies.”
A stance that heaps pressure upon him – pressure that can only be relieved by generational success.
Deschamps is small in stature, but possesses shoulders broad enough to bear this burden. And all signs from a month of competition in Russia point to him engineering another landmark triumph.
Brazil, Spain, holders Germany, Argentina and Portugal have not lasted the pace. All must watch from home, including bitter semi-final victims Belgium.
“France heads a corner and does nothing more than defend,” defeated goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was quoted as saying by Sporza. “I would have preferred to have lost in the quarter-finals to Brazil, at least that was a team that wanted to play football. [France] are just an anti-football team.”
If the Portugal defeat two summers ago was the nadir, Tuesday’s 1-0 victory against Belgium acts as the zenith of Deschamps’ vision.
An imperious defensive structure shut down florid playmakers Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, constricting Romelu Lukaku – arguably the competition’s outstanding centre forward. Griezmann then supplied the corner that centre-back Samuel Umtiti flicked in for the only goal.
Vanquished Belgium’s tally of 14 goals is four more than their conquerors.
This was France’s leading fourth clean sheet in Russia. Only Argentina have scored against them in open play, during a 4-3 round of 16 result that acts as a statistical outlier.
Deschamps’ side have rarely moved out of second gear this summer.
They opened in Group C with a 2-1 win against Australia that included a controversial Griezmann penalty and an own goal. A cacophony of boos followed when they ended it versus Denmark with the tournament’s only goalless draw to date.
Centre-backs Umtiti and Raphael Varane have got the breakthrough in their last two knockout ties. In contrast, centre forward Olivier Giroud is yet to have a shot on target from six run-outs.
Frustratingly for Deschamps’ detractors, three goals in nine second-half minutes followed when Argentina went 2-1 up. An alluring image of what could be.
But those rallying against the France supremo are ignorant of history – both his own and the World Cup’s.
Raymond Goethals at Marseille was a believer in sound defensive tactics. Together, they would win the 1992/93 Champions League and two Ligue 1s.
Deschamps claimed nine trophies under Marcello Lippi at Juventus, a head coach who argued: “A group of the best players do not necessarily make for the best team.”
This ethos rings true of a man who continues to promote Giroud, while ignoring the claims of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema.
The recent history of the World Cup has also rarely rewarded entertainers.
Carlos Alberto Parreira’s 1994 champions with Brazil have gone unloved, while Aime Jacquet’s 1998 squad grew into the competition four years later.
Lippi’s Italy in 2006 were lauded for their durability and warrior spirit. In 2010, Vincente Del Bosque’s Spain won every match 1-0 from the round of 16 to the final.
In 2018, Deschamps’ name should be added to this list.
Know more about Sport360 Application