Joel Bats entered the annals of French football thanks to his performance in the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™ quarter-final against Brazil. After pulling off a series of superb reflex saves in the 120 minutes of normal and extra time, Les Bleus' keeper produced a stunning stop to deny Socrates in the penalty shootout, playing his part as France advanced to the last four.
“It was an epic match, a match that endeared me to people. It’s the kind of game that helps you forget the ones in which you didn’t play anywhere near as well,” he joked in conversation with FIFA.com.
Bats certainly played a few games, 546 of them, to be exact, in Ligue 1 and 50 for his country, including France’s victory on home soil in the final of the 1984 UEFA European Championship, an occasion he described as “my happiest memory”. Following a career in which – in addition to that trophy and that legendary Brazil-France tie – he also won the 1986 French league title, he became goalkeeping coach at Olympique Lyonnais. It was there that he coached a certain Hugo Lloris between 2008 and 2012, and where he now passes his expertise on to Anthony Lopes, Rui Patricio’s understudy in the Portugal goal.
With his two protégés set to cross swords in Sunday’s UEFA EURO 2016 final, Bats spoke to FIFA.com about his relationship with both keepers and his memories of France 1984 and the World Cup two years later.
FIFA.com: The EURO 2016 final must feel special to you. It must take you back 32 years. What memories do you have of that tournament?
Joel Bats: It’s the most special memory of my sporting career. In the years and the matches that followed, I never found anything that could top that. The matches at the 1984 European Championship have stuck in my mind, especially the France-Portugal game in Marseille and the final against Spain, which ended with France winning its first European title. It makes me feel very proud. The fans were so passionate and the mood in the camp was amazing. France are unbeatable at home, though. We were European champions in 1984, world champions in 1998, and now we’re going to be champions again in 2016.
Do you see the same kind of passion today as in 1984?
Yes, it’s very similar. I was lucky enough to be at the Portugal-Wales semi-final the other day at the Stade de Lyon. I was walking around the stadium and I could really feel the excitement. It took me back 30 years and it made my heart skip a beat. I realised how lucky I’d been to have experienced the same kind of wonderful occasion.
The 1984 final will always be remembered for the mistake Spain keeper Luis Arconada made from Michel Platini’s free-kick. What went through your mind at the time?
I couldn’t see anything from where I was when the ball went it. The Spanish wall was blocking my view, so I didn’t see Arconada’s mistake. All I could see were blue shirts running about everywhere, hugging each other. We’d scored! It was only after the match, on TV, that I saw the pictures everyone was talking about. I felt for him. Arconada was a fantastic keeper at the time.
What goes through your mind in the build-up to a game like that?
We felt under pressure, but it was positive. We had a very good team and had the ability to blank out negative pressure. We were united and together as one. We all relied on each other, and we had faith in each other, which made us incredibly strong. I think the current team has the same qualities that we did.
The final will be a special occasion for you, with two of your protégés facing off. You coached Hugo Lloris between 2008 and 2012 and you’re now coaching Anthony Lopes. Do you think you can compare them?
Their career paths could be the same. Anthony Lopes is just an understudy at the moment. Hugo earned his place pretty quickly, and with the amazing qualities that he’s got, he’s shown that he’s been the rightful number one for all these years. No disrespect to Fabien Barthez, but Hugo’s going to become France’s most-capped goalkeeper. I’ve got a special relationship with him, and I had him on the phone a couple of days ago. We had a chat and a laugh. Aside from being a great keeper, he’s also a great person. Hugo has a special place in my heart, but so does Antho. He’s still working with me. And it’s the same with him: we had a chat yesterday. I called him during the France match, and I said to him: ‘I’m going to have a couple of my charges in the final’. It’s fantastic for them and for me.
Lloris had an especially good game against Germany. Is it the start of a new phase in his career?
You have matches like that. They’re the defining moments in your career. Hugo’s is a long way from over, but that match will always stand out. He’ll remember it for a long time, and the France fans will remember it even longer. They’re the matches that make an impact, the legendary games. People still speak to me about France-Brazil in 1986.
We’ve just had the 30th anniversary of that match. What kind of a place does it have in your heart?
It was an epic match, a match that endeared me to people. It’s the kind of game that helps you forget the ones in which you didn’t play anywhere near as well (laughs). I was fortunate enough to play a part in a legendary game that turned out well for Les Bleus. Others haven’t been quite so lucky, like Max Bossis. He was a fantastic defender, but he’s often remembered for the penalty he missed in the 1982 World Cup semi-final against Germany, when he was left holding his head in his hands like a child who’s done something silly.
You had an altogether happier experience in the shootout against Brazil in 1986. What was it that made the difference?
A big part of it always comes down to luck, though there was a kind of calmness about the team in 1986. Nothing could go wrong for us that day.