Diminutive he may have been, but as a player Alain Giresse towered at the heart of the France side in the 1970s and 1980s, writing his name into legend as one of his country's finest ever midfielders. Standing just 1.63m tall next to his great accomplice Michel Platini, he was one of the main architects of France's first ever international title at UEFA EURO 1984 and their historic run to the semi-finals at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™.
Forever remembered for his place in the Carré magique (Magic square) together with fellow French titans Platini, Luis Fernandez and Jean Tigana, Giresse also carved out a successful career in the club game, most notably picking up a pair of league titles during a long and distinguished spell with Bordeaux.
Born in Langoiran, around 25km to the south east of Bordeaux, Giresse earned himself a place in the Girondins' youth ranks while training to become a carpenter. It was at Bordeaux that he then made his top-flight debut against Nimes on 12 October 1970, playing his part in a 1-1 draw not long after his 18th birthday. The pocket-sized schemer was soon turning heads with his talent, but his days of glory still lay over the horizon, with Bordeaux struggling to impose themselves on the French domestic scene.
At the time, Saint-Etienne, Nantes and Marseille tended to divvy up the trophies on offer, while Bordeaux had to focus on avoiding relegation, hardly an ideal situation for a young player looking to blossom. Despite the testing context, however, Giresse was able to establish himself as a leader in midfield, taking on board the creative duties thanks to his exquisite technique and incredible vision.
A dream realised
Those same attributes soon brought him the captain's armband, and although Bordeaux continued to tread water, Giresse was handed his maiden France cap in Poland on 7 September 1974. "That first match against Poland is still a memory loaded with emotion," he said. "To be picked at international level was the culmination of a dream and my first cap was rounded off by a 2-0 away win. We were part of a generation of players that I'd say came out of nowhere because youth academies didn't exist yet."
Although his introduction to the international game went smoothly, Giresse had to wait another three years before he was called up again, being brought back into the fold by Michel Hidalgo for a 4-0 success in Switzerland and a tour of South America that produced a goalless stalemate with Argentina and a 2-2 draw with Brazil at the Maracana. Nevertheless, when it came to picking a squad for the 1978 FIFA World Cup, Giresse was left by the wayside, a snub he has yet to forget: "In the 1970s, people didn't take much notice of me, even though I had a few great seasons."
All that was about to change, and the catalyst came when Claude Bez took over as President of Bordeaux and set about transforming the side into the leading power in French football. With Aime Jacquet on the bench and Giresse pulling the strings in a side boasting the skills of Marius Tresor, Bernard Lacombe and Jean Tigana, Bordeaux would soon go on to stand out as the predominant force in France's top division. And the better the club fared, the more their players began to assert their reputations, with Giresse emerging from a spell in the shadows to suddenly become a key figure in the France line-up.
Gigi was almost 30 when the cream of world football gathered in Spain for the 1982 FIFA World Cup, but his heyday was finally about to commence. He left an especially strong impression on the semi-final against West Germany, his face riven with joy as he put Les Bleus 3-1 up in extra time, surely thinking he had sent his side through to the showpiece. Instead, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Klaus Fischer still had time to draw the Germans level, before France's dreams evaporated in the penalty shoot-out.
Despite the final result, that strike remains the defining goal of Giresse's life, the enduring image from his career and a time when the Carré magique drew admiration from around the world. "There was a great understanding between us while our different qualities complemented each other and were always put at the service of the team," he said. "There was nothing official, of course, but Michel Platini was the orchestrator-in-chief because of his ability to create and finish chances. I had a more balanced role as the supply line, whereas Luis Fernandez and Jean Tigana worked on getting the ball back and moving it forward. In short, that midfield was like a well-oiled assembly line, with Platini there to finish everything off."
The certainty of victory
Giresse is wary now of "being stuck in the past", but 1982 clearly looks to have been a turning point for the player nicknamed 'Little Big Man'. His superb performances in Spain brought him a second-place finish behind Paolo Rossi in the Ballon d'Or stakes that year, and in 1984 he steered Bordeaux to their first French title since 1950. Shortly afterwards, he helped France to their memorable EURO 1984 triumph on home soil.
"The France team reached its peak then," he said. "France lived up to our billing as favourites and went all the way, despite the pressure of playing five games. That European title was the high point of five years full of fabulous moments between 1981 and 1986. I sometimes get nostalgic about that youthful period. I remember especially that when I used to leave Bordeaux to go to Paris and play at the Parc des Princes with the France team, I was filled with a feeling of certainty that we'd win."
More success was to come the following year as Bordeaux collected another league crown and reached the semi-finals of the European Cup. "We felt so strong that, when we went onto the pitch, we knew practically every time that we were going to win," explained Giresse, whose expert lob also helped Bordeaux down Marseille in the 1986 Coupe de France final. It was another moment of magic from the midfielder, whose influence on the club was exceptional during his 18 years in navy blue.
That summer he made the switch from Bordeaux to Marseille for one final adventure in the club realm, having also disputed his last match for France as Les Bleus lost their 1986 FIFA World Cup semi-final to West Germany on 25 June. Two years later, with five goals and 67 outings for OM under his belt, Giresse announced his retirement following a 2-0 victory against Monaco on 4 June 1988. "Sportsmen have pride," he said at the time. "They prefer to go before being told they should stop."
Date of birth: 2 August 1952
Place of birth: Langoiran (France)
Position: Centre midfield
National team: 47 caps (6 goals)
Bordeaux (1970-86), Marseille (1986-88)
As coach: Toulouse (1995-98), Paris Saint-Germain (1998), Toulouse (1999-2000), FAR Rabat (2001-03), Georgia (2004-05), Gabon (2006-10), Mali (2010-12), Senegal (since 2013)
2 French championships (1984, 1985)
2 French cups (1986, 1987)
1 UEFA EURO championship (1984)
1 Intercontinental Cup (1985)
Third place FIFA World Cup (1986)
Fourth place FIFA World Cup (1982)
French Player of the Year (1982, 1983, 1987)
1 Moroccan Cup (2003)
1 French Champions Trophy (1998)
Third place CAF Africa Cup of Nations (2012)