Didier Deschamps, quiet strength

Didier Deschamps, quiet strength

If Kylian Mbappé and Olivier Giroud logically turned the spotlight on them during the Blues’ qualification for the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup, Didier Deschamps is characterized by calmness and mastery of the event. The selector lives in Qatar, his fifth final stage at the head of the French national team.

“I’ve never felt him so good and so sure of himself.” This confidence from someone close to the French group sums up all the requested feedback on Didier Deschamps. Described as “calm” by his faithful assistant Guy Stéphan, the coach is now reaping the rewards of long preparations for this 2022 World Cup.

Put the players in the best conditions

At every meeting in 2022, Didier Deschamps had his sights set on the year-end meeting in Qatar. During the June or September games, the coach was able to specify his beliefs and therefore his choices, either in terms of tactical options or player selection. When the list was released on November 9, he made no secret of the fact that he would be pushing for a four-man defense during the World Cup. It’s not a coincidence. “He prepared this meeting very, very well, says Stephan. He knows exactly what he wants to do and where he wants to go”. Among his findings: Dayot Upamecano with Raphaël Varane. His choice was made even before the trip to Denmark. He believes that the central defender’s performances at Bayern Munich are tremendous. The only problem: his indecisive performance in Blue. That is why he prepares for specific managerial work with the player to give him confidence. And it looks like it’s paying off today, given the competition from the former Leipziger.

Another example: giving Antoine Griezmann a hybrid role in midfield. Further back than usual. Deschamps is confident of the benefits this will bring to the team and knows Antoine will welcome these new instructions. His relationship with the Atlético de Madrid midfielder is special and he is giving it back. “I owe him a lot, the player admitted at the press conference. I owe him everything in the French national team. I give everything for him. I try to do everything so that he continues to have confidence in me. Every match, every action is like a thank you that I send to him. “

“Adjustment is not self-contradictory”

After failing at the last Euro, has Didier Deschamps changed his approach to the event? Or some methods with players? “He hasn’t fundamentally changed his habits, answers Olivier Giroud. Except maybe he talks a lot with each player. It was a little less the case with me at the Euros. He talks a lot with us as we get closer to the match”.

Preparation, reflection, communication and anticipation. The key words at the heart of Deschamps’ method who also managed contingencies and in particular the three packages after his list: those of Christopher Nkunku, Karim Benzema and Lucas Hernandez. If there was no talk of lamentation, “DD” does not forget the human aspect. He will feature prominently in the FFF’s press releases announcing the packs and will take the time to call these three players after their departure.

On the right side he went with Benjamin Pavard as a carrier. After the match against Australia, he tells his four truths to the defender of Bayern Munich, after a disappointing game. The exchange between the two does not allow the coach to return him to the team. So go for Jules Koundé on the right, who is considered more useful for the team, despite Pavard’s national team. “Didier, he has a plan A, then a plan B, then a plan C if necessary,” blows a close friend of the coach. “I’m adapting,” he likes to say. He even gave, on the day of his list, a personal definition of this verb: “To adapt is not to contradict oneself, it is to take into account a reality that can evolve”.

The importance of group life

But even if he knows how to adapt, Didier Deschamps never likes situations where he rules so much. And in the context of the final stage, especially the World Cup, the element that he wants to control 100% and that he considers essential is group life. When assessing the failed Euro 2021, one of the mistakes the staff noticed was the choice of base camp. For Qatar, it is out of the question for the selector to make the same mistake. So the anticipation, again and again. For many months, Didier Deschamps oversaw the selection of the base camp in Doha, traveling to Qatar to judge for himself on the spot. Al-Messila Resort is one of the most desirable resorts of the qualifying nations. It ticks all the boxes. The first victory of France, which plants the tricolor in this luxury hotel. “The place is airy and allows you to live well,” underlines Guy Stéphan after twenty days of living together.

If Didier Deschamps seems on top of his head, it may also be because he is good in his body. Her silhouette remained sharp for many months. In Doha, he does his sports sessions with his assistants every morning and, in particular, his now-famous dress-up class. He carefully plans every day with his staff, without being authoritarian. If he is looking for accuracy in the schedule, especially for everyone to be at the table at 13:30 for lunch, it has already happened since the beginning of the World Cup that he asked Mohamed Sanhadji (security officer) to call the hotel kitchen to delay the fifteen-minute meal because the players are hanging out in the dressing room. In the dining room, two round tables are reserved for the staff, and Deschamps’ place is on a chair facing the whole group. This allows him to have no one behind him and to see all his players at a glance.

Didier Deschamps at training with the Blues, in Doha 24.11.2022.
Didier Deschamps at training with the Blues, in Doha November 24, 2022 © Icon Sport

He didn’t even forget “his first life” as a player, as he sometimes says. He knows the importance of loved ones during the tournament. That’s why he approved moments of exchange with women, children and more, the day after qualifying for the quarterfinals with a full day’s rest and a few hours of free time. He could personally use his wife Claude, but he also wanted to go and greet the various players’ entourage. “He is radiant,” said a witness present at the base camp on Monday. “He’s a leader, but we don’t feel him above. He’s in the middle of his group. Not above.”

The future is the present

The Blues’ next match against England is scheduled for Saturday, December 10. There are still 21 days until his coaching contract expires (December 31). It is impossible to find anyone close to the group who says he has heard Didier Deschamps talk about the end of his adventure in charge of the Blues. “He is completely focused on the World Cup,” swears Guy Stephan. “100% focus on your goal,” insists another source. During this stay in Qatar, Noël Le Graët, the president of the French Football Federation, comes to the base camp every day and has daily exchanges with his coach. But, promised, the future will not be discussed until the end of the competition. His contract situation doesn’t seem to have any bearing on his hold over the group anyway.

Didier Deschamps knows he has just three games left to maintain this control and make a little more history. The future can wait for three games.

AP’s Loïc Briley, in Doha

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