After being criticised, lampooned and even insulted before being acclaimed and eventually adored, AimeJacquet can truly say he traversed the full spectrum of managerial experiences during his four years in charge of the French national team. He took up the reins at a time when the position was regarded as something of a poison chalice, with Les Bleus having spectacularly botched their attempt to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA ™.
Once in charge, he soon set his sights on world supremacy and duly accomplished his mission. And then rather than use his success to tout his services to the highest bidder, he simply moved upstairs and took control of France's national training system before a well-earned retirement came in 2006. Fitting for a quiet man who sent an entire nation into ecstasy in 1998 and whose dignified appearance conceals an intense and studious passion for the game he has made his life.
A natural ability
Long before that unforgettable summer when he guided his country to the top of the world, Jacquet had already enjoyed the sort of playing career that many only dream about. A resilient defensive midfielder, he was part of the great Saint Etienne team of the late 1960s and earned his place in French footballing lore by helping Les Verts win five league titles and three French Cups in his eleven years at the fabled club. In 1973, he finally left the Forez and signed for bitter regional rivals Lyon, with whom he ended his playing career.
Having been heavily influenced by the legendary coaches he worked under at Saint Etienne - men such as Jean Snella, Albert Batteux and Robert Herbin - it was only natural that Jacquet sought to turn his hand to management. His first chance to impose his vision of how football should be played came by the banks of the Garonne, where he took over at Bordeaux. He promptly guided the Bordelais to the most successful decade of their history, during which they were crowned champions three times, picked up the French Cup twice and reached two European semi-finals and one quarter-final. Unsurprisingly, Jacquet became a highly respected figure among both players and peers.
Right man for France
After his stint at Bordeaux, Jacquet opted to fine-tune his theories and training ideas with less illustrious clubs, starting with Montpellier before moving on to Nancy, where a certain Michel Platini first captured the attention of the football world. However, as someone who is by nature discreet, he then decided it was time to withdraw from the limelight and, in 1991, accepted a post with the National Technical Training Centre (Direction Technique Nationale), where he worked to develop French football more or less behind the scenes. On 15 July 1992, however, he was appointed assistant to then national team manager Geard Houllier.
Les Bleus had just completed a disastrous venture to the European Championships in Sweden and one year later would embark on a nightmarish run that saw them blow qualification for USA 94 by capitulating at home to Israel (2-3) and Bulgaria (1-2). After that disaster, public confidence in the team fell to almost subterranean levels, and few believed France would achieve anything of note despite hosting the 1998 FIFA World Cup finals. A new manager was needed, someone who would build afresh and infuse a crestfallen squad with renewed confidence. A mighty task, one that not many could be expected to accomplish. The French Football Federation decided the best course of action would be to hire someone from within their own ranks: Aimé Jacquet stood head and shoulders above anyone else.
He took to this sizable challenge with relish, slowly but surely overhauling the wounded French squad. He showed he knew how to be tough, but also that he was capable of putting a comforting arm around players when required. Whatever approach he opted for, the goal was always the same -- to build a better team. The fruit of the new boss's labours were discernible as early as his first match in charge (versus Italy in Naples on 16 February 1994), when a side playing with new-found heart and verve triumphed 1-0 thanks to a Youri Djorkaeff strike.
Zidane becomes the one
The major foundation of this new French team's success was, however, laid in late summer of 1994 when, in the 63rd minute of a friendly match that the French were losing 2-0 to the Czech Republic, Jacquet gave an international debut to a 22 year-old Bordeaux player by the name of Zinedine Zidane. Thirty minutes and two goals later, Zidane had untangled Les Bleus from a decidedly sticky situation, turning probable defeat into a creditable draw and introducing himself on the international scene in spectacular fashion.
At that time, the team's play-making duties were still falling to Eric Cantona, a gifted maverick but one whose character tried the patience of more than one boss. On 18 January 1995, Jacquet took a bold decision and, in the face of much criticism, handed Zidane the place that had hitherto been the preserve of the man Manchester United fans called Le Roi.
At the Euros, building up to 1998
Having topped their qualifying group, France went in to EURO 96 as one of the favourites for overall glory. Though his side somewhat failed to live up to that billing - going out on penalties in the semi-final to the tournament's surprise package, the Czech Republic - Jacquet learned enough from the English expedition to put out an even stronger side for the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
He used the following two years of friendly matches to do just that. His focus was clear and his moves deliberate, yet a sceptical media poured scorn on his "tinkering"; some press commentators went even further and rather than concentrate on his decisions or technical merits preferred to assail the man for his quiet and introverted personality. Jacquet never sunk to this baiting, and instead continued to work towards his target, which was not just to perform well in "France's" FIFA World Cup, but to win it.
All the right moves
When the big competition came round, the French had no trouble negotiating their way through the group stage, sweeping aside South Africa (3-0), Saudi Arabia (4-0) and Denmark (2-1). The records may show that they only squeezed past Paraguay in the second round thanks to a Laurent Blanc's golden goal (sealing a 1-0 win), but the fact is that the hosts controlled the match from start to finish and would have won far more comfortably had their finishing been better. The French steamroller then carried on relentlessly, overcoming Italy (0-0, 4-3 on pens) and Croatia (2-1) to set up a final match showdown with Brazil.
Once there, Les Bleus could not have dreamed of a better outcome, and while it is true that the Seleçao may have been knocked out of their stride by the mysterious affliction that struck Ronaldo on the morning of the game, France's emphatic 3-0 victory came courtesy of the most complete 90 minutes of football of the Jacquet era.
By guiding his homeland to the top of the world, Jacquet sent all of France into a month-long celebration and then, ever the quiet man, returned to his beloved DTN until retirement in 2006, satisfied with the knowledge that he had achieved what he had set out to do. Without ever shedding his dignity, he had served up the perfect answer to all those who had been so acerbic in their criticisms over the previous years. His finest achievement, however, was to have succeeded in unifying not just a team, but an entire country.
By France 98 Jacquet had honed his innovative 4-2-1-3 system into one of the most solid in the history of the French national team. In front of goalkeeper Fabien Barthez stood a fantastic four-man defence consisting of Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Laurent Blanc and Bixente Lizarazu. These 'four musketeers' deployed a zone-marking method, with Blanc operating as an old-fashioned sweeper. Sitting in front of this four-man blockade were Didier Deschamps and Emmanuel Petit, who mopped up incalculable amounts of possession before knocking the ball to the team's one central playmaker, Zinedine Zidane. The three attackers consisted of one centre-forward (Stephane Guivarc'h or David Trezeguet) and two wide men (Thierry Henry and Youri Djorkaeff). Jacquet controlled Italy and Brazil in the finals by reverting to the same system he used at the European Championships in 1996 - three ball-winners (Christian Karembeu, Petit and Deschamps) across the midfield.