Didier Deschamps is anxious to see history repeat itself. The captain of the first French club to win the UEFA Champions League, back in 1993 with Olympique Marseille, the former midfielder that night became the last l’OM player to hold a major trophy aloft for 17 years, a drought came to an end when the Southerners won the French title in 2010.
Their coach on that long-awaited occasion was none other than Deschamps himself, his part in those two triumphs prompting the fans to carry banners with the legend: “Player or coach, you make us happy, Deschamps.”
When the former Bleus midfield general was appointed national team coach in July 2012, France fans had every reason to be optimistic. After all, Deschamps the coach has enjoyed success wherever he has gone.
Aside from his spell with Marseille, where he won three consecutive League Cups to go with that Ligue 1 crown, the ex-Nantes man also took Monaco to the final of the Champions League in 2004 and Juventus to the Serie B title three years later.
While his first year in charge of Les Bleus was not all plain sailing, the Basque tactician got the basics done, steering his side to second place in a group dominated by reigning world and two-time European champions Spain and booking a place in the play-offs for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ in the process.
Ukraine are the team now barring their path to Brazil, where Deschamps will hope to see another French player emulate what he did 15 years ago by holding the World Cup Trophy aloft. Following the draw for the European play-offs, the France coach spoke to FIFA.com about the final stage in his side’s qualification push.
FIFA.com: Is it an advantage to be favourites against Ukraine and to be playing the second leg is at home?
Didier Deschamps: That’s the way it’s turned out. We didn’t have any say in the matter. But obviously it would have been tougher to play Portugal, Croatia or Greece, who’ve got more international experience and world-class players. Ukraine rely more on their strengths as a team. Playing the return leg at home is also a good thing. We’ve got every reason to be confident, though we should be wary of our opponents. We can’t afford to think that all we have to do is just turn up. We need to fight to qualify.
What’s the difference between sudden-death games like these and group matches?
You need to have character for sure. It’s all or nothing in two matches, with not much time at all between the first and second legs. It’s a long trip. It’ll be cool, chilly even, and we’ll need to be well prepared and well organised to make sure we recover properly. For my part I’m going to try and get as much information as I possibly can on them. You have to remember, though, that Ukraine were seeded, they have a better ranking than us and they’ve been in very good form since EURO 2012. So respect and caution is the name of the game.
France have just found some form after a rocky patch, beating Belarus 4-2, Australia 6-0 and Finland 3-0. Have things just clicked?
No, there are just times when you’re confidence is up, which no doubt explains why the team’s doing better right now. The last time we got together I had some players who were on top form and we had a few people back from suspension and injury. I hope nothing happens before I name my squad and we play those two matches because we’ll need all the strength we’ve got. And we’ll really need to be together as one, because it’s in every French person’s interests to see Les Bleus in Brazil.
You had a reputation as a winner in your playing days, a reputation you enhanced in Italy. Is that something you use with your players in the dressing room?
A national team coach has to get messages across and transmit all their experience. In my case I was lucky enough to play with some real competitors, who were used to competing at very demanding clubs where results were everything. Here it just so happens that we’re in a specific situation, a two-legged play-off, where experience counts. We'll have to handle the emotion of the occasion, focus just on what's happening on the pitch and put everything else out of our minds.
You skippered the France side that won the FIFA World Cup in 1998. Do you speak to your players about the thrill of playing in and winning the competition?
I don’t speak very much about the past. It’s part of my life, but it was another time and with different people. What we have to do here is write a new story together, and if we’re going to do that we have to make it to Brazil. We knew for a while that we were heading for the play-offs. Now that we know who we’re playing, all we have to do is focus on what lies ahead.
With the 2014 World Cup being played in Brazil, the home of football, do you feel any extra motivation?
There’s nothing better for a professional player than to play at the World Cup full stop. Even if you’re at a big club, playing in the biggest competitions, nothing feels better than pulling on the national team jersey at the world finals. I’m here in a different capacity here as the coach, and I’ve accepted the mission of taking Les Bleus to Brazil. We are all going to do what it takes to reach our objective.
Let’s imagine the play-offs go well. How do you think Les Bleus might do in Brazil?
We’re not there yet. We need to qualify first. Then we’ll talk. To be frank, if I start talking today about what the World Cup might be like for us, I'd be showing a lack of respect to Ukraine. Let’s take it step by step and concentrate on qualifying.
How do you think you’ll need to approach the two games against the Ukrainians?
We’ll need to be ambitious and try to impose ourselves. I know the Ukrainians are well organised as a defensive unit, but we have to make sure we take control and cause them problems, while also keeping our wits about us. It’s up to us to go and make sure we qualify.