Thirty-two came. Twelve survived. Twenty six of them arrived proud of the medals and the glory that accompanied their team's participation in the final round of a World Cup.
Heads rolled in rapid succession in France. Faced with a lack of success, some national associations carried out their own revolutions. Under the guillotine went Parreira, Bum Kun Cha, Kasperczak. A minute's silence is due to those who fell victim to overblown expectations and now lie buried in the graveyard of lost illusions. The list expanded to take in other good and courageous coaches, Passarella, Maldini, Milutinovic, Bonev, Okada.... Respect is due to those who hit the ejector seat button of their own accord: Hiddink, Le Roy and Troussier, and who will land, perhaps safely, somewhere else.
No national trainer emerges unscathed after a major world tournament. Even the strongest and the hardest have trouble in healing their wounds. Since July, Clemente and Vogts have departed. The turmoil being created around Hoddle makes speculation rife about how long he will last. Zagallo, a disappointed loser, has been called by the powers of justice in his own country to determine how much he is to blame for Brazil's defeat in the final.
Aimé Jacquet can reap the rewards of his hard work. All the criticism that was aimed in his direction before the event has turned to so much adulation now that he was proved right. Those who think they can see into the future are falling over themselves with speculation.
The tidal wave that swept over France just before and after their winning the title of world champions is a wonderful illustration of the emotional burden that every national team has to carry. The losers are treated as if they had the plague and the winners receive adoration out of all proportion. In France (a country that normally takes little interest in football compared to its neighbours), the people took to the streets in every city, town and village, in multi-racial celebration of the glory of the country's multi-ethnic team. The "Blues'" victory provided cement for national unity. Everyone loves them. The country's immigrants are now integrated, as were those in the heroic team. Jacques Chirac's popularity rating rose twelve points.
So the French flag now flies at the masthead of world football. For Aimé Jacquet, the coach, winning the title was "Apocalypse Now". On the way he had been under attack, often quite sharply, for his way of approaching games, despite a steady run of success. Some of the attacks were unpleasantly personal, directed at his supposed lack of personality. He won't forget those occasions. The inexcusable lack of faith on the part of the magazine L'Equipe, which has a monopoly position for weekly sporting news, can be explained by the cultural distortion between the high aspirations of the French mentality and the reality of competition at top level. The working man's language used by Jacquet, turning such phrases as "Work, humanity and solidarity", seemed at odds with the aspirations of "La Grande Nation". France enjoys things done with panache, it is the country of great ideas, of the art of good living. The football-champagne from the house of Jacquet lacks the right kind of sparkle and bubble.
But in the final analysis the country's hopes of seeing spectacular matches, magnified by the press, depend on what happens on the pitch, on the strengths and weaknesses of the individual players. France were more convincing in defence than in attack (except against Brazil), which could be interpreted as simply the result of the coach's choice of tactics. But all the teams that Jacquet has ever coached have been characterised by defensive solidarity and by their not taking unnecessary risks. So why attack the style of play, which anyone familiar with the game would have seen coming from the moment he was appointed? A coach will act in accordance with his inner conviction, and he will stick with the ideas which he believes will bring success, even when things are not going well, and he is going to resist pressure to change, no matter how strong and no matter from which quarter it comes. He should have a vision. As Menotti said: "A coach does the thinking, the public and the press do the watching". It is just this difference, and it gets blown up to greater proportions by national pride, which explains the frequent misunderstandings between public opinion and the coach of a national team.