Published January 15, 2013
PARIS – French national team coach Didier Deschamps has been successful wherever he's played and managed. Now he's attempting to turn Les Bleus back into a force.
A tie at defending champion Spain in a World Cup qualifier last October was followed by a win at Italy in November.
"It's about being competitive. What I say to the players is, 'Give yourselves the means to go as far as possible,'" Deschamps said Tuesday during an interview with The Associated Press.
"Understanding it is one thing but it's about making it happen. On the pitch, off, when you do everything you can, there are no regrets," he added. "When things go well, human nature means people have a tendency to let themselves go. But, no, you have to keep improving."
His predecessor, Laurent Blanc, was credited for transforming the team following its first-round elimination at the 2010 World Cup, when players went on strike during training. Then France lost to Spain 2-0 in the quarterfinals of last year's European Championship, remembered for Samir Nasri's profanity-filled rant at a reporter.
Nasri has not played for France under Deschamps and neither has winger Hatem Ben Arfa nor midfielder Yann M'Vila, who snubbed Blanc and forward Olivier Giroud by refusing to shake their hands when he was substituted for against Spain. M'Vila is banned from the national team until July 2014 for leading a party of players to a nightclub while with the under-21 team before a playoff game. Deschamps felt let down as he had sent M'Vila down to the under-21s to help him learn about responsibility.
"It's not always about picking the best players in each position, it's about building a group to help you reach your objectives," Deschamps said.
Deschamps has no time to educate players; he thinks they should be prepared.
"When you're playing at the highest level and in big competitions you have to have high standards on a daily basis," he said. "When you're a competitor you bathe in those high standards."
France's federation suspended four players after the 2010 World Cup and two after Euro 2012 — M'Vila and Ben Arfa also were reprimanded over their behavior.
"Players must be very attentive to what they do and say. It's not a constraint, it should be part of their lives as a footballer," said Deschamps, casually dressed in gray jeans and a black sweater, and relaxing in a big leather chair as he occasionally glanced up at a sports show on the large television in his office. "You must have a framework, everyone must stay within it. I don't want clones, where everyone is nice. They have different personalities but they have to stay within that."
Deschamps is happy with his current roster and suggests there will be little changel. He also is pleased to have Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as captain.
"He's not a big talker but he fulfills the role of captain very well," Deschamps said. "He's a great competitor, he's shy and reserved, but not on the pitch."
Keeping Lloris as captain was one of the rare common points between Blanc and Deschamps.
While Blanc spoke with eloquence of playing with flair — and had some impressive results against Brazil, Germany and England t — Deschamps is a pragmatist who steers clear of ideals. He coached Marseille to the French league title in his first season and guided unheralded Monaco to the Champions League final in 2004.
"Results are the most important thing, then you can always improve how you play. We've got seven points, and we've completed a part of the journey pretty well," Deschamps said.
He looked ahead to the March qualifier against Spain, which leads France in Group I on goal difference. The group winner advances to the 2014 tournament in Brazil, and the second-place team likely will go to a playoff.
"Spain are the best team in the world," Deschamps said. "They caused us problems, as they do to every team in the world, but we shook them up."
Giroud's goal on a stoppage-time header helped France end Spain's run of 24 straight qualifying wins. It was the kind of dramatic, emotional high French fans have longed for since David Trezeguet's overtime goal against Italy in the 2000 European Championship final won the last of France's three major trophies.
Deschamps was captain at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
"We experienced the same emotions as those watching on television or inside the stadium," he said. "It triggered something off, people were thrilled. We have to keep hold of that and cultivate it. You could see (the unity) on the pitch. They experienced something and that must be built on."
Deschamps hopes next month's exhibition against Germany provides a tough rehearsal for the Spain game.
"It won't be easier for us at Stade de France, but we have to believe," he said. "How do you beat Spain? They're the best team individually and collectively. You have to be at your best and hope they're not, and then there are little things that need to work in your favor. Everything has to come together."