Euro 2016: Egoless and uncontroversial France - Didier Deschamps’ faith in the youth has paid off
Chapter I: The downslide
It all went downhill with Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt. The legendary French midfielder left his final competitive game as a professional footballer with his head hung down. The trophy was within the reach of his hands as he fumed down the tunnel––and that’s just about as close as he could get to it.
France, who were dominating the game up until that point, went downhill in a way that resembled going down a water slide in amusement parks. And it seemed like a never-ending one at that.
Euro 2008 brought more disappointment, with France finishing bottom in a group that consisted of Italy, Netherlands and Romania. The old guard was getting older, the young talents brought more controversy than effectiveness.
Just weeks prior to the World Cup 2010, France were hit with another blow. Karim Benzema, Sidney Govou and Franck Ribery were involved in a scandal relating an underage prostitute.
As a result, France went into the World Cup with a handicap, but in a group that had themselves, Uruguay, Mexico and South Africa, France were expected to reach the second round at least.
A mid-World Cup revolt from the French players, who refused to train with the coach, meant that they repeated their Euro 2008 failure as they finished bottom in the group. With that, the downslide was complete.
Chapter II: Deschamps’ faith
The World Cup 2010 marked the end of the has-been and could-be players. Euro 2012 might have been an unsuccessful transition phase, but it was a good lesson for the incoming Didier Deschamps. The World Cup winning captain took over from Laurent Blanc and made his intentions clear from the very beginning: he would focus on youth and have zero tolerance for egotistic and controversial nonsense.
And it clearly seems to have worked.
France were beaten in the quarter-final of the World Cup 2014 by Germany. Two years down the line, they beat the same team to book their place in the Euro 2016. Literally, the same team as six players that were involved in the World Cup loss featured in their latest win.
It could have been an astonishing 9 players had Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena been in the squad and had Raphael Varane not missed the squad due to an injury. It is a telling testament of Deschamps’ faith on the youngsters.
Chapter III: Taking Risks: You win, you lead; You lose, you guide
A lot of people were expecting—perhaps even hoping for—France to fail in the tournament given that Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena weren’t selected in the squad. The controversy of Valbuena’s sex-tape put another black mark on French football, and Deschamps wasn’t keen to take it with him at the Euros.
A drop of ink on crystal clear water changes the whole complexion of the liquid. Deschamps knew that he had to make a decision that would bring him some criticism, but he is a brave man, something he always displayed when he was a player.
The former Marseille boss could have done the easy thing. He could have picked up both Benzema and Valbuena as a shield to dodge himself from criticism. Instead, he dropped them and risked being in the limelight. Had France failed with Benzema and Valbuena, the players would have been blamed more.
Without them, however, Didier Deschamps put himself on the target end of the firing squad.
Final Chapter: The risk pays off
The duty of every good manager is to keep the negativity away from his players. This is another reason why not taking Valbuena and the Real Madrid number 9 was a good decision. If they were in the squad, all the media would be harvesting on about was how they were doing within the squad, exploiting the rift and weaving mountains out of molehills.
The French team now is in a state which the fans always craved for ever since their golden generation of Zidane and co. left: a talented bunch of players without ego and far from controversy.
Heck, controversy has always surrounded this team, even during the golden days. However, Deschamps, being the captain of that golden era, knew the importance of being away from it. This is the only France team in recent memory to have no controversies surrounding it—and with the retirement of Patrice Evra, the last of the controversial players would also be gone.
As Griezmann now takes most of the plaudits for his outstanding displays at the Euros, Deschamps smiles in the background, perhaps patting himself on the back for the risk he took—the negativity that was on him has now turned to a ray of optimism shining on the Atleti man as France now hopes.