- Guy Stephan has been an assistant to Deschamps since 2009
- He speaks about the attributes of the Bleus coach
- Responds to criticism of the world champions’ style of play
Getting the right people around you is crucial to the success of any human undertaking, as Didier Deschamps knows. On being appointed Marseille coach in 2009, he chose Guy Stephan as his assistant and extended their working relationship in 2012, when he took on the France job.
Six years later, Les Bleus won the FIFA World Cup™ for the second time in their history. Speaking to FIFA.com, Deschamps’ right-hand man discusses the secrets of his boss’ success, which have earned him a place as one of the three finalists for The Best FIFA Men's Coach award.
FIFA.com: What was your view of Didier Deschamps as a player?
Guy Stephan: I’ve known him since 2000, when I was an assistant to Roger Lemerre in the France team. Didier was the captain and he was already thinking like a coach, a real leader of men. If there was anyone at the time that I could have pictured in the dugout, then it was him. Little did I know that we’d go on to work together.
You also coached Zinedine Zidane in your time. Did you ever think he’d go on to have a successful coaching career too?
No, I’d be lying if I said that I did. He didn’t have the same calling as Didier. Zizou took his time after retiring as a player. Then he got his badges and developed his skills with a lot of thought and intelligence. What he achieved with Real Madrid is amazing.
What impresses you the most about Deschamps today?
He knows how to lead and to get people to buy into his vision. He’s a great listener and he has a great relationship with the players. he knows his job and the top level inside out. But what amazes me most about him is his ability to make the right decision at the right time. He made the right choices at the World Cup and he stuck to his guns when the criticism started coming.
What’s he like during matches?
Very calm. In fact, he’s got a lot calmer over the last six years. He’s got this great ability to analyse things. He likes to have my opinion, so I give it to him. Ultimately, he’s the one who makes the decisions, but we always talk about them beforehand.
What do you have to offer him?
Maybe the fact that I’ve been a head coach too. At least that’s what he said in 2009 when he was asked about my appointment. I know what he needs. My experience of coaching abroad, in Africa and Turkey, was also important in his eyes. It’s been nine years now so he must be happy with things (laughs).
What’s your response to the criticism of the way Les Bleus played in Russia?
A lot was said about us not having the ball, which wasn’t true: we had 49 per cent possession throughout the competition. The team had a lot of strong points. They were very good when it came to transitions. The team went straight for the opposition goal whenever they won the ball back. They were also very skilful at dead-ball situations and they were very solid at the back too. You need good foundations if you’re building a house. We played some quality football, attacking at pace and scoring some great goals, like the one Benjamin Pavard got to make it 2-2 against Argentina. It was Lucas Hernandez who played the pass to him, and when you’ve got your left-back crossing to your right-back it means the players are expressing themselves on the pitch.
We trailed the opposition for just nine minutes throughout the whole competition, which shows that we never lost control. We were never taken to extra time, and we scored four goals in the Final, which hasn’t happened for a long time. The conclusion you draw from all that is that France played very well. Aside from all the talent we have, the team and the spirit in the camp were outstanding.
Deschamps is only the third person in history to have won the World Cup as a player and a coach. Why do you think he has been able to achieve that?
Like I said, he has this talent for getting people to buy into his ideas. A national team coach is not just a coach and his players; there’s all the support staff too, a team of around 20 people. These two different groups have to live together for two whole months and work towards the same objective.
He doesn’t like to speak about the past too much, does he?
That’s true. He draws on his experience but he doesn’t talk about what he did as a player. He never says: ‘In 1998, I did this and I did that’. He lives in the present and that was the key to his success in 1998 and again 20 years later. Then again, we learned a lot from our failure at EURO 2016, and thanks to that we went into the Final in Russia in much better shape, with a greater sense of calm. Didier has grown a lot. He’s still a young coach who’s got a lot of good years ahead of him. He knows what he’s doing and he knows what he’s about.