Exclusive Didier Deschamps interview: I don't have an ego, I'm looking to win more ahead of Euro 2020 tournament
Eurosport spoke to France's World Cup winning coach, Didier Deschamps, as he prepares his team for the rearranged Euro 2020 tournament. We asked him about his past as a player, his formation as a manager, how he approaches the game, and his hopes for a legacy. Deschamps praised some of his former colleagues, and explained why he doesn't dwell on defeat or victory.
France's national football team head coach Didier Deschamps addresses a press conference at the Stade De France in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris on June 7, 2021, on the eve of his team's friendly football match against Bulgaria
Eurosport: Do you remember what you were doing on 28 July 2001?
Didier Deschamps: I think I was sitting on a dugout bench, for the first time, with AS Monaco.
It was against Sochaux.
DD: Oh, that did not go well. The second match as well! I had Sochaux and then Montpellier, two promoted sides, and I took one point from the two matches.
What principles did you have at the start of your new career?
DD: The decision to change my career from a player to a coach came very quickly. I had an offer from Monaco president [Jean-Louis] Campora, and the time to put everything in place, put my staff together, plan get-togethers, it was very quick. I’m not going to say too quickly, but I had five days between my last match with Valencia and the start of my time with Monaco. I was prepared for it but it was quick. I took the decision to stop my career because my body was sending alarm signals.
You said that it was almost too quick. You didn’t have it in your head to become a coach already in 2001?
DD: I had foreseen a break for some time, I had even taken media work. In my soul, I was thinking of taking two or three years out.
The whole start of your coaching career was difficult. You finished 15th in the league with Monaco. What was foundational from that first season?
DD: It could have ended there, it was not a big deal despite everything. But everything gave me experience. I’d taken over Claude Puel’s group of players, and he, with more experience than me, had endured more or less the same problems. The level of players, there was not much difference between the first and second teams. I was coming from seven or eight years abroad. I was interested in French football but I was a bit disconnected. To be confronted with this new reality allowed me to see that everything that seemed clear to me on the pitch was not for my players. It was necessary to go through intermediary steps on the way to reaching what I wanted. There were stages but, eventually, they did not last very long.
In 2004, you were in the Champions League final with Monaco. What was the biggest change between 2001 and 2004? The group of players, or you?
The players, that’s the base, because a coach is not a magician. We had a group of younger players, with experienced players who could bring a balance. For my part, I had my coaching qualifications. It was important to figure out how to use my experience. We weren’t set up to reach the Champions League final but the fact that Pierre Svara became president [in 2003] was an important element in the running of the club.
Deschamps led France to the World Cup in 2018
Image credit: Getty Images
In your playing career, you have known people like Raynald Denoueix, Jean-Claude Suaudeau, Raymond Goethals, Marcelo Lippi and Aimé Jacquet. A diverse group - what did you take from them?
DD: My playing career is a treasure from which I continue to draw. It’s not the source of my inspiration but there are things that I loved at Nantes, and with other coaches that you cited. The essential thing is what I can do in a situation. The idea is that I don’t just copy and paste, because that isn’t good enough. The context is usually different. At Nantes for example, there’s a chronology, the players training together since they were fourteen or fifteen. They were programmed and everything became natural.
The objective for a coach is the same at the heart. I was talking to Stephan Moulin recently. The trainer is there to do the best for each of his players, for his teams and to obtain the best result possible. There is a word that sums this up: to adapt. It is necessary to adapt to the specifics, to the players, etc. There is not just one way to win. Sometimes we played worse and won. We could also put in the same effort and lose. In a perfect world, I prefer to have both, but it’s not always the case.
What is there to learn from a coach like Marcelo Lippi?
DD: When things go well, or even very well, you learn a lot of things on the pitch and in management. But there’s another period. There were not the same approaches. I am convinced that we couldn’t do anymore what we did 15 or 20 years ago in management. It had to evolve, as well .That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a fundamental basis for us all, but it’s changed. Management has become more important. I remember Raynald Denoueix and Coco Suadudeau. It did not have press conference every three days. It was less conventional, they didn’t have the staff that I do today, but they didn’t have the same needs as me.
I don’t want to take anything away from them. It was certainly as hard for them. I’m not going to say that it’s harder today but it’s not easier at all. The requirements are different.
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As a coach, we quickly categorised you as the spiritual son of Aime Jacquet, but if you had to keep just one principle from him, what would it be?
DD: That’s above all an honour. No team can achieve a high level if there is something going on internally. The harmony of the squad is paramount. There are choices to make. It was his responsibility like it is mine today. I have the privilege to remain in contact with him but not just the trainer, it’s the person. I will be forever grateful for what he did with us and for me,
Klopp’s gegenpressing, Guardiola’s innovations, the work of Simeone, what do you feed off today?
DD: I watch and I reflect. You speak of Simeone, and there are many who criticise him and don’t like his style. He’s the champion of Spain today. Klopp got stuck this year. It can work at one point, but that’s not to say it will work every time. After winning the World Cup, I was asked to speak in front of my peers. I accepted but I also said, “I’m not a teacher,” and, “I am saying how we made big strides forward, but this is not the only route.” There are other ways to get there, but this route here is the one that allowed us to advance.
We talk a lot about Klopp and Guardiola: Do you think it is unfair that we don’t cite you in the list of influences in management today?
DD: Really, it doesn’t matter. I am not going to say it’s unfair. I like to think that everyone can have a different analysis. What interests me in the discussion. For the World Cup, you could say that the French team were very defensive. It’s true that we had defended well, but look at how effective we were? We talk about the 2010 Spanish team’s mastery - they had not scored in open play in the knockout stages. My staff, the players, they know: I never put limits on. The attackers have total freedom, I have never stopped a wide player going forward, I have never built a team to say, “Today, we defend and we’ll see what happens.” No, it’s not that. Today, I have enough good players to take the game to our rivals, but we could also lose if we aren’t strong at the back. The objective is to build a team that has the biggest chance of causing problems for your opposition, to create chances and score goals.
What is the role of players and their influence on the tactics of the team on the pitch?
DD: There are a lot of ways to go. You could say, “I want to do it this way, so do it this way.” I prefer to work with my players. By talking with a player I want to use in a certain way, if I don’t feel it’s going well, I reconsider. Because a player wants to play, he will always say, ‘yes, yes coach’, but if he says, ‘yes’, and then he does the opposite...
During the World Cup, I also said: In certain matches, notably against Belgium, I found they had an excessively low block but the players were happy with that, and felt strong like that. What would you want to do? I knew that as well. The players had gone on like that because they felt strong like that. It didn’t stop us creating chances when the opportunities presented themselves.
That speaks of a certain maturity in the team.
DD: Or the influence of certain players, and their intelligence. Defending, everyone can do it. I’m not saying it’s the easiest, but it’s the least difficult thing to do to defend compare to attacking. The rest is basic, there should be no mistakes - close down space.
What would you like us to say about you in 30 years?
DD: I don’t ask that question. I already have thirty years behind me.
Deschamps began his managerial career at Monaco
Image credit: Getty Images
Today, we say, “Deschamps, he's about the win,” does that suit you?
DD: Yes. Honestly, it’s not false humility, I don’t bother with that. I know what I’ve done. I will have time, one day, or not, to look back. But that’s what interests me: today and tomorrow. I don’t have a big ego. I want to win, with my players. What will happen will happen, and they can’t take away what I could do. I have done some things, but what interests me is to do more.
If you could only remember one match from your career, what would it be? One perfect game.
DD: The perfect game, you can’t talk about that. I would say the important thing is the relationship with the players, and there has to be something that links it to victory, a trophy. Because that is the only thing that happens. Clearly the context of a final is particular. It’s difficult to stay in control of a game for 90 minutes, but I’ll suggest a match. It might shock you, it’s not one that you would expect: It’s France v Iceland at the Euros. With their 442, we had worked hard on their approach, their long balls, their set pieces. There, the game went as planned.
That’s interesting you chose it as you had a week between the last 16 and the quarter-finals. To have a week between choosing the team, that’s a rare luxury. Is that not something you miss as a trainer?
DD: There are a lot of us who think the same thing. It’s true: before the 2014 World cup, I had 30 days of preparation. Today, I have 20. With those 10 missing days, I would have without doubt done other interesting things. It’s like that. It’s necessary to do the basics. I have priorities, but within those priorities I have to again re-prioritise. I am not all alone, luckily, I have a capable staff.
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Which match do you have the most regrets about? Where you think you made the biggest mistake.
DD: It’s not the biggest error as a result can go against you because of something small. For some years, I haven’t asked myself this question, “And if I’d done that?” I don’t have an answer, it’s hard to work out. I’m not going to say the final of the Euros, because if we played it again, I’m sure we’d win more times than we’d lose.
Could you consider the Euros successful if you don’t win it?
DD: That’s like asking me what happiness is. Happiness is total only when there is victory - you have your answer.