Didier Deschamps's 100th game in charge of France: How he managed Les Bleus' golden generation
Didier Deschamps doesn't like to talk about himself, his achievements or the trophies he has amassed throughout his career spanning more than 30 years in football. As a former defensive midfielder totally dedicated to his team, the collective unit has always come first for him. Now as a manager, it's even more true. It is all about his players, but on Sunday against Albania in Tirana in Euro 2020 qualifying -- stream in U.S.: Sunday 11/17, 2.45 p.m. ET, ESPN+ -- it will be Deschamps' night.
On Thursday evening, his French team booked its place in the Euro 2020 with a laborious 2-1 win over Moldova in Paris. Next, the 51-year-old will celebrate his 100th game as France head coach against the Albanians, an incredible milestone never achieved before in the nation's history. It's another record for Deschamps, too. It's unfortunate that he won't hit this milestone on home soil and that his celebrations will take place away from home, but you don't choose your destiny, or when glory hits you.
Just 20 managers at the international level have hit the century in charge -- Germany's Joachim Low (177 games) and Uruguay's Oscar Tabarez (166 games) are the leaders and the only other active coaches to have reached the mark -- but Deschamps has an added dimension to his accomplishments. Even before Sunday, he is already the first (and only) captain to have lifted the European Cup for a French club, Marseille, in 1993. He's just the third person, alongside Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer, to win the World Cup as a player (1998) and as a manager (2018), the second to do it as captain, joining the German defender (1974, 1990).
Since he took over on July 8, 2012, his record with Les Bleus has been remarkable: played 99, won 64, drew 18 and lost 17 for a win percentage of 64.64%. He reached the World Cup quarterfinal in 2014 at the first time of asking, losing narrowly to the future champions Germany (1-0). He lost a heartbreaking Euro 2016 final against Portugal in extra time (1-0) on home soil before reaching the top of the world in 2018 in Moscow against Croatia.
His record with France is so extensive that his first game in charge, back in August 2012, feels like such a long time ago. Of the team that drew 0-0 with Uruguay in Le Havre that day, only Olivier Giroud (who started) and Raphael Varane and Steve Mandanda (both on the bench) are still featuring in his squads. Hugo Lloris and Blaise Matuidi, both currently injured, were also part of that squad seven years ago, but everyone else has disappeared.
- Replay: France 2-1 Moldova (U.S. only)
"[One hundred games] is a very symbolic figure. I was lucky enough to experience it as a player [Deschamps had 103 caps from 1989 to 2000]. It shows the longevity at the top level, but it doesn't have the same feeling. I am maybe prouder to achieve it as a head coach," he told the media when the France camp convened at Clairefontaine this week.
When Deschamps replaced Laurent Blanc after Euro 2012, he was careful to not look too far forward or get too comfortable. He knew that France had gone through really tough years before him and that the job ahead was massive. He was pragmatic and very efficient with an abundance of resources, helping weave Antoine Griezmann, N'Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe into a coherent attack and reshaping his defence around Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti while Hugo Lloris provided great leadership. It has not always been the prettiest style of football from his France teams, but the results are hard to argue. Lloris, captain under Deschamps for their World Cup triumph, had nothing but good things to say about the Deschamps era.
"[Reaching 100 games in charge] is a wonderful achievement. He has been a wonderful coach for us. In his man management, in his tactical knowledge, in his positivity. He made us feel at the 2018 World Cup that we were going to win it. He deserves so much credit for everything we have done since he took over," Lloris told ESPN.
His 100th game will take him into another elite group, joining Low, Tabarez, Bruce Arena (130, U.S. men's national team, 1998-2006), Vicente Del Bosque (114 with Spain, 2008-16) or Morten Olsen (163 with Denmark, 2000-17) to name just some of the most recent. Inside the French camp, the celebrations are ready and the players are looking forward to honouring their coach. There will be a present for the manager, maybe a cake, a signed card and plenty of attention given to him for a change, too.
Deschamps is currently under contract with France until only 2020, but now that his side has qualified for next summer's Euros, his deal will be extended until 2022 and the World Cup in Qatar. Everything is ready and should be signed next month. His mind, though, will focus only on next summer. He was so disappointed to lose the 2016 Euros final at home that he wants his revenge and wants to go a step further this time. Thirty years after France's 2000 triumph, Deschamps can do the World Cup / Euros double again, albeit as a manager this time.
Les Bleus are the pre-tournament favourites considering their talent, experience and momentum. With potentially two-and-a-half more years to go in the job and two more big tournaments, Deschamps can dream of reaching the 150-game mark and further strengthening his legacy.