The history of football is littered with defenders destined to remain in the shadows. Whether watchful sentries or plain old workhorses, these unsung heroes of the back line are invariably eclipsed by their more attack-minded team-mates. Over the years, however, a very select band of defenders have brought their unique skills to bear and made an indelible mark on the game, among them Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giacinto Facchetti, Laurent Blanc and one Marius Tresor.
The strange thing is, the Guadeloupe-born centre-half might never have acquired such status had it not been for a tactical switch made by a shrewd former coach. "I owe so much to AC Ajaccio and Alberto Muro. When I arrived from the West Indies I was a centre forward and it was he who moved me to the back," Tresor tells FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
France has much to thank the Argentinian tactician for. Not only did the striker-turned-stopper develop into a highly accomplished defender, he went on to become one of the greatest ever to represent Les Blues. And to crown a distinguished 15-year career, during which time he collected 65 caps and scored four goals, in 2004 he was named in the FIFA 100, the list of 125 greatest living footballers.
"The two World Cups I played in are among the greatest memories of my career," explains Tresor, taking up the story of his years on international duty. "I was very honoured to be part of the team that qualified for the World Cup in 1978, the first time France had reached the finals since England 1966. I'm sure that also weighed against us as well. We thought we'd already achieved our goal just by reaching Argentina, but in actual fact we hadn't achieved anything. It left a bitter taste, but to be honest the Argentinians were simply unstoppable that year."
France were back on big stage four years later and this time they were ready, although an opening 3-1 defeat to England had the French media predicting an early flight home.
"There were a few similarities between us in 1982 and the 2006 team. The only difference, and it was a big one if you ask me, was that Zidane and Co made it to the Final before losing (laughs)! No-one really believed in us after the disappointment of 1978, and after that first defeat there was a feeling of real anger in the team and that helped spur us on. It's always better to ease into a competition."
As fate would have it, though, France fell just short of glory, their superb run coming to an end against West Germany in an amazing semi-final that has gone down in FIFA World Cup history.
Twenty-six years on, Tresor offers his considered analysis of that breathless evening. "We've just about calmed down about it now," he grins. "We all know you can't go back and change things. We were a bit shapeless at the start, but that opening goal [scored by Pierre Littbarski after 17 minutes] actually woke us up and got us going."
Within ten minutes Michel Platini had equalised from the penalty spot, the match then taking a dramatic turn when Germany keeper Harald Schumacher famously collided with France striker Patrick Battiston in the second half.
"Thinking about it now I'm more angry with the referee for not blowing the whistle than with Schumacher," comments Tresor. " The day after the game we were at the airport with the Germans, and watching Schumacher sharing a laugh with the coaching staff was hard to take, I can tell you. We even had to hold Jean Tigana back."
That incident stuck in our throats for a long, long time.
The match went into extra-time and after just two minutes the libero scored one of the finest goals of his career, volleying an Alain Giresse free kick into the roof of the net to put France ahead.
"I just wanted to show defenders can score nice goals too," he smiles. "Horst Hrubesch was marking me. He was bigger than me and I knew I wouldn't be able to beat him in the air. So I decided to sprint over to the far post and then run back to the middle of the box. And as he was heavier than me he couldn't keep up (laughs)."
However, despite going two goals clear after Giresse had added a third, the Germans reeled France in and eventually went through on penalties.
"We didn't control the latter stages of the game at all. We did that typically French thing of just wanting of keep on playing. We'd totally forgotten there was a final to be played three days later. The right thing would have been to move the ball around and keep possession but we didn't know how to do that back then. And we didn't count on the tenacity of the Germans. Their second goal really knocked the stuffing out of us."
Bordeaux love affair
Two years on from that fateful night, Tresor was forced to call time on his career at the age of 34. Following two back operations, his body had decided enough was enough. "It was very hard for me to stay in football and not be able to join my team-mates out on the pitch."
However, just three months after becoming a sales advisor, he was back in the game he loved. "I very quickly realised that football was my life and when the Bordeaux President Claude Bez came calling, I went straight back to Girondins."
Though he will always be associated with Bordeaux, the big centre half also spent eight seasons with southern giants Olympique Marseille: "I hardly won anything with Marseille but I don't have the slightest regret about playing for them. The atmosphere surrounding the club was so good that if it had been up to me, I'd have stayed there."
Yet, in 1980 he was on the move to Bordeaux, where he still remains. "I signed for them at a time when the President was trying to build a team good enough to get back into Europe," he explains. "We managed to qualify every season in fact, and the one tie that really stands out for me is the second leg against Hajduk Split in the 1982/83 UEFA Cup. We'd lost the first leg 4-1 but came back to win the second 4-0."
This coming June marks Tresor's 29th anniversary at the club closest to his heart, a club where he has held the positions of PR manager, youth team coach, scout and press officer, some of them at the same time.
And for the last three years he has been coaching the reserves with Battiston, his lifelong friend and former Bleus team-mate. " Every year we try and help two or three of the youth team players break into the first team, and I must say it's really nice to work with these kids."
good that a club can rely on its ex-players. Bordeaux is like one
big, happy family.
Even so, the amiable Tresor still yearns for his old job as the club scout. "I used to love it, as it meant I could travel and see the whole country," he chuckles.
Indeed, such is his devotion to the Bordeaux cause the ex-international is willing to do anything to serve his club. Well, almost anything. "I've had my fair share of different jobs to be honest, although I'm a bit more choosy now," he adds with that legendary grin of his.