While he might not enjoy the accolades afforded to Aime Jacquet for winning football’s greatest prize, the FIFA World Cup™, Michel Hidalgo is without question one of the most endearing personalities to have managed the French team.
Coach of Les Bleus between 1976 and 1984, Hidalgo is credited with placing France squarely among the global elite. Qualification for the FIFA World Cup in 1978 and 1982 proved dress rehearsals for Hidalgo’s crowning glory - victory on home soil at the 1984 UEFA European Championship.
Hidalgo was himself a player of great stature and was rewarded in his career with three Ligue 1 titles, one at Reims (1955) and two at Monaco (1961, 1963). But it was his role as coach of the national team that secured him legendary status. Famous for his “magic square” midfield made up of Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Bernard Genghini, Hidalgo moulded a trademark identity for his team.
Hidalgo will always hold a special place in the hearts of the French people, thanks in no small measure to his charming and determined personality. He will be remembered as much for his tears of triumph in 1984, as his outburst during Spain 1982 when a Kuwaiti Sheikh attempted to have a French goal overruled. A lesser-known anecdote is perhaps even more revealing of Hidalgo’s temperament. Subject to a kidnapping attempt prior to Argentina 1978, the diminutive coach showed such sang-froid that he even managed to disarm and see off his would-be abductors!
Heralded as a father figure to players and a hero to the fans, Hidalgo is also one of football’s great poets. When he waxes lyrical on the game, it evokes memories of how he made his players play. Quite simply, it is the stuff footballing dreams are made of, and in our regular column celebrating some of the game’s great orators, FIFA.com invites you to read some of his most memorable quotes.
“Intelligent play is more important than any instruction.”
On the importance of creative players.
“This French team lacks what we like to see in our football: sparkle and brilliance. Are those two qualities off limits now? My dream is of football that smiles and creates. Beauty and efficiency go hand in hand. I know that might sound silly, but it is what I believe in…”
In February 1994, on the subject of rebuilding the French team following their failure to qualify for USA '94.
“I have never talked results with my players. Never! I have always told them to focus on the game and the results will follow. I have been a player, a coach and a spectator and I have always thought that way. And I’m not worried if that sounds poetic or trite!”
Hidalgo’s philosophy, which became the trademark of the Platini generation.
“If we had had Jean-Pierre Papin up front, we would have won the World Cup in 1982!”
Hidalgo regrets despite having great midfielders, France lacked great strikers. And when a great striker came along, the great midfielders were gone.
“This qualification by the two French teams is a heartwarming result, but we shouldn’t get carried away. German football is still what it was 15 days ago - which is not the same thing as French football!”
In December 1980, following the qualification of Sochaux and Saint-Etienne at the expense of German clubs in European competition.
“I will continue to try to build this club. Billions have been made here. If you look at their following and their success, Marseille is one of the biggest clubs in France. And yet, it is all built on sand. There is nothing here!”
Commenting on his appointment as manager of Marseille in 1986.
“A No10 cannot be manufactured. His instinct is what counts. One playmaker will always add a certain quality to your game. When you have three of them playing together, your problems simply fade away!”
On the creative players in his “magic square”.
“I have had enough of this collective thinking. Football has become too complex today. We are killing the art! Where have imagination, instinct and flair gone? You hear coaches talk in figures, statistics and percentages. They are nothing but two-bit technicians!”
His analysis of the progressive disappearance of artistic players in favour of more workmanlike players.
“Watching the French team doesn’t bring me pleasure anymore and I do find that a shame. But I love the Les Bleus so much that I’m willing to forgive them…”
Hidalgo in 1992.
“Michel was a magic lantern; imagination personified…”
On Platini, his captain in 1984.
“Even Platini’s feet are intelligent!”
More fulsome praise for the same player.
“I built a team of strong and sturdy men. I ended up with a bunch of crying children.”
On France’s defeat in the epic 1982 FIFA World Cup semi-final against West Germany.
“They say it’s a democratic system. I would call it a relative democracy. People cling to it. Structural change is a good thing, but it is just men who make the structures at the end of the day…”
In 1994, on the need for reorganisation of the French Football Federation following France’s loss to Bulgaria that saw them miss out on USA '94.
“To be a coach of France, you have to be in love with the French team. You have to believe in an aggressive game with a deft touch and then show that to the whole world. We are representing a nation, after all!”
Hidalgo’s view on the role of French coach.
“A coach who wins is like Louis XIV at Versailles with his Hall of Mirrors. A coach who loses is more like Louis XVI at the guillotine…”
A different perspective on the same job.
“Comparisons are always dangerous. We all know that [French female cyclist] Jeannie Longo rides faster than Fausto Coppi ever did…”
On comparison between generations.
“Today, we play with three defensive midfielders and one playmaker. I played with three playmakers and one defensive midfielder!”
While generations should not be compared, it seems styles of play can be contrasted.
“Our dream was to at least make the final. Which is completely stupid because there is nothing worse than losing in the final…”
On the 1984 European Championship, where France triumphed.
“One thing I don’t like is a player who is a good influence in the changing room. I prefer a player who performs on the pitch!”
The secret to his selection process.
“Big teams fall apart without creative players.”
Hidalgo, the fervent advocate of teams built around playmakers.