“The Water Carrier” - It is a strange statement with varying connotations and if you’re an Eric Cantona fan or if you have a certain White and Blue running through your veins you may look away now. Eric Cantona used these words to describe defensive midfielder Didier Deschamps in 1995.
Some cite it as a proof of Deschamps' tenacity and stamina in breaking up play and carrying it forward for the team while others argue that this was Cantona at his usual ruthless best inferring that Deschamps’ sole contribution was to break up play and give it to his more talented teammates.
Perhaps, it was apt that Deschamps was named as team captain for Euro 1996 after the suspension of previous captain, Eric Cantona. 22 years later, France couldn’t have wanted more from their most trustworthy man and his men - The Water Carriers.
It does help that he was the captain of the only French club (Marseille -1993) to win a Champions League trophy and is one of the only three captains in football history after Franz Beckenbauer followed by Iker Casillas to lift World Cup, European Cup and Champions League trophies.
But nothing captivates France with their regal footballing history more than that 13 July 1998 night at Stade de France, Saint-Denis when Zinedine Zidane scored two blistering headers on two corners sending the football-crazy nation into a frenzy.
By the time France celebrates the 20th anniversary of that historic victory, Deschamps and his charges would already have sealed their fate as probable champions of the world or another golden generation would have achieved little while promising so much.
But one thing is for sure, this team has truly every bit of the puzzle falling in place. Built around Deschamps' own reflection, Blaise Matuidi and N'Golo Kante are his water carriers with Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann the spearheads that young guns Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane once were.
In 2003, reacting on Madrid’s decision to sell French defensive midfielder Claude Makelele to buy David Beckham, Zidane famously commented: “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”
Ironically, France with their treasure trove of attacking talents in Anelka, Henry and Ribery sat Makelele out and could only manage one draw each at Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 crashing out in group stages with Abou Diaby and Jeremy Toulalan failing to carry out the humble task of breaking up play and winning the ball back.
To make it more humiliating, France even lost to hosts and minnows South Africa and could muster a combined two points from six matches at these tournaments. Enter one Didier Deschamps. Deschamps took over France in 2012. His blueprint was defensive foundation coupled with explosive youth.
Deschamps, himself being the flag bearer of upheaval of ace veterans David Ginola and Cantona in favor of young guns like Zidane and Henry (the breakout stars of World Cup 1998 and Euros 2000), called in Blaise Matuidi (the man who replaced Makelele at PSG in 2011), Mousa Sissoko and one Paul Pogba, as his midfielders.
Matuidi’s dirty work on the left coupled with Pogba in the centre (He recovered the ball a staggering 28 times in the first four matches) allowed Valbuena to exploit the right flank and France reached the quarterfinals.
However, Deschamps finally found the engine for his shining Bentley of Pogba, Griezmann, Giroud and later Mbappe in N’Golo Kante. Invariably, Pogba, Matuidi and Kante were at the heart of France’s perilous European qualification campaign featuring heavyweights as Netherlands and Sweden.
For all the goalscoring talent and pace, Deschamps’ team finally had some steely backbone to it too. They overwhelmed free flowing Netherlands in a 4-0 rout in which Kylian Mbappe scored his first international goal. Against strictly conservative Luxembourg, France could not find a way through but their midfield never allowed a counter to flow too.
Needing a victory, France held onto a third-minute goal by Matuidi against Belarus to ensure qualification for the World Cup. This may be stretching the point but truly, France is your World Cup winning team of the old which can kill open teams in an instant but can be a hard nut to crack on other days too.
At Russia, in the first two matches alone, Kante, with 27 recoveries, had risen to second on the list of highest recoveries at a World Cup (Behind only Pogba at Brazil-28 in four matches). Argentina with all their star power in Messi, Di Maria, Aguero and Banega were not going to be a team which sat back so inevitably the world had to sit back and acknowledge the French firepower riding on their tenacity.
With 4-4-1-1, France finally have got the balance to their side with Matuidi on the left allowing Mbappe to exploit the right flank and Kante (described by Paul Pogba as the man with 15 lungs) helping reinvigorate Paul Pogba in the centre.
The scoreline actually fails to flatter the domination France had throughout this encounter. Although in Brazil, France may have an audaciously exciting semifinal but for man to man, Tite may have the attack expected to deliver the goods but Argentina’s attack was also expected to deliver but then nothing happened, exactly as expected. In Paulinho and Casemiro, Brazil do not have the water carriers to match Deschamps’s Kante and Matuidi.
In these hard times of hysterical superstars, France’s most steady hand and his water carriers have created quite a story and now they must win for France and the world to believe in humility and devotion to the team cause again.
Do you think France can go all the way in the 2018 FIFA World Cup? Tell us in the comments below!Published 04 Jul 2018, 23:47 IST