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Old 14-08-2012, 02:00 PM
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Default No fools for Didier Deschamps as France youth underpin fresh start | Amy Lawrence


Deschamps instils discipline and passion as Les Bleus look to bury debacle of Euro 2012

To those in France with only a passing interest in its national football team, the current scene would appear to be vaguely familiar. A member of the golden generation is appointed to breathe new life after a rueful and ratty tournament which went down like a lead balloon. The country that invented deja vu conveniently provides its very own word to describe Les Bleus.

Dig a little deeper, though, and there is reason to believe that life under Didier Deschamps may not turn out to be a replica of Laurent Blanc's period as France's head coach. Although they have substantial shared history – both are well loved icons for France who won World Cup and European Championship honours, both left their homeland to experience top level football abroad in Spain, Italy and England, and both showed great promise as a young coach winning Ligue 1 – they are very different managers with very different personalities to inject into the job.

Compared to Blanc's more laid back, conservative style, Deschamps is ferociously passionate, engrossed in studying football and constantly challenging his own ideas, wears his heart on his sleeve, and has a disciplinarian streak he is not afraid to use. The early evidence is there from his first get-together. Mobile phones have been banned, and a new set of expectations about behaviour will be enforced. "I really want everyone to have the right attitude and behave properly," Deschamps explains. "If anyone doesn't do that, they'll be condemning themselves, not me. Being picked or not picked is a form of sporting sanction.

"From a historical point of view, what happened in 2010 and at Euro 2012, players have to realise they have a responsibility to be an example on and off the pitch. To be a French international has to be the pinnacle, even for players who are playing at big clubs and in big competitions. I won't use the term 'zero tolerance' but with what happened, French supporters attached as much importance to the result as to behaviour."

In addition to the absent Samir Nasri and Jérémy Ménez, who picked up bans from the Federation as punishment for their brattishness during the European Championships, Deschamps has cast aside Hatem Ben Arfa and Yann M'Vila for his first selection. France play Uruguay on Wednesday night in a friendly, and the squad has been refreshed with an emphasis on a nucleus of young players. "Talent has no age," Deschamps says.

Just because Blanc's era ended in disappointment, that is not to underestimate the work he did in repairing the havoc wreaked by France at the last World Cup in South Africa. There is a more pointed question to be asked of the current generation: if Blanc managed to get France back on track only for old problems to resurface when it came to the crunch at tournament time, are there certain elements that are almost beyond managing? Can Deschamps do enough things differently? That is the burning issue, and it will be fascinating to observe whether the former France captain can find the answer, either by bringing the more complex personalities into line, or finding a winning team without them.

Rio Mavuba's return to the fold, after five years out of the picture, emphasises the qualities Deschamps likes in a player. Mavuba is a dedicated guy, a serious professional, a team man. So too the likes of Étienne Capoue, the midfield anchor who has been interesting a few Premier League teams, and the sharp defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who deserves more of a chance on the international stage than he had last season.

Deschamps has only one warm-up to blend his team and instil his ideas before the real business begins next month. He managed to get the whole squad together only by Monday lunchtime, so time to actually work on strategies is scarce. France begin their qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup with a double header against Finland and Belarus. So far so reasonable, but the problem is they drew Europe's shortest straw as they also landed Spain in their group. When you consider Group E has Norway and Slovenia as top seeds, and Group G has Greece and Slovakia, you can appreciate that France might feel a little miffed to end up with the current world and double European champions. There is an acceptance that a play-off place is the realistic aspiration en route to Brazil 2014. Deschamps said as much himself.

But deep down he is the one man who won't settle for that. It is not only his job, but his nature, to aim as high as can be. As he said when he was handed the reins of the national team: "You know me. Winning is in my blood."

That was why, as a player for Les Bleus, he had an overwhelming feeling in the seconds after France won Euro 2000 that he should call time on that stage there and then. He had captained his team to the international double, and had played the role of the manager on the pitch – cajoling, inspiring, ordering tactical adjustments – with unerring conviction. As his team-mates celebrated, he was overwhelmed by the feeling that it was the end of his era. "I gave all my energy, my faculties, my time, my heart and my spirit," he said.

Picking up where he left off is some challenge.


Amy Lawrence

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