Boghossian: I have zero regrets about my World Cup
For France supporters, the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ conjures a happy list of iconic moments. From Zinedine Zidane's double in the Final to Lilian Thuram's two goals against Croatia, the mythology of that historic summer endures. Who can also forget Aime Jacquet's team talks, the saves of Fabien Barthez, Laurent Blanc's red card and the centre-back kissing the head of Le Divin Chauve (the Divine Bald One) in goal?
Less memorable perhaps are the cameo appearances of Alain Boghossian. Usually deployed as a substitute, he played a thankless but essential role in the midfield engine room for Les Bleus, helping the team with his intelligent positioning and tireless work in retrieving possession.
The former midfielder actually featured in five of France's seven games at the finals, including one match as a starter. Less celebrated than some of his team-mates, his contribution was every bit as vital as the hosts covered themselves in glory.
Twenty years on, Boghossian spoke to FIFA.com about his role in the squad, his memories of that landmark tournament and France's prospects of repeating their triumph at Russia 2018.
FIFA.com: How has football changed since 1998? Alain Boghossian: It's faster, although it was already pretty fast at the time. We also focus a lot more on individuals. There have always been players who were a cut above, but it seems to me that the team mattered more before. You always prefer to have great players in your team, but nowadays we put a lot of pressure on them as individuals. In a team, everyone is responsible for the wins, just as they are for defeats. The team with the best collective spirit wins 99 times out of 100. That's what makes football so wonderful.
What was it like being a substitute for France in 1998? You have to be ready when you're chosen to go on and accept it when you're not. Otherwise, you're not a good team player. It's important to understand your role. I was always honoured to be there and always gave everything when I was sent on. My goal was to put pressure on the starters so that they didn't let up and to make the coach's decisions as tough as possible, but always with good intentions and the aim of lifting the standard of the squad. That's what motivated me throughout my career.
What did Didier Deschamps and Emmanuel Petit, the midfield starters, have that you did not? For a start, I didn't have anything like Didier's list of achievements. He was captain of Marseille and France, and his experience was on another level. I felt automatically that I was on a rung below him, though I wouldn't have had any qualms about taking over if he'd played badly. Emmanuel Petit was more similar to me. He was a left-footed player with real athleticism, good technique and incredible powers of recovery. Manu had a superb World Cup. I gave it my all but was always conscious of my place in the hierarchy, even if I knew I wasn't far off a starting spot. I have zero regrets about my World Cup. Everybody wants to play more, but I was among the substitutes who got the most time on the pitch.
What were your own unique qualities? I had unshakeable mental strength and never gave up. I always served the team and got through a lot of work retrieving possession in midfield. Aime Jacquet often sent me on when we were in front to help maintain our lead and close out the game. I wasn't the kind of player who could make the difference in an attacking sense. Besides, holding midfielders often need to be replaced during the match if they give everything.
That was the case during the Final against Brazil. Yes, we were leading 2-0 when I went on and I did everything I could to contain them and move the ball forward cleanly. Marcel Desailly had been sent off shortly after the hour mark, so that meant there was even more work to do. But none of us had any issues doing our defensive duties – least of all me, who was not a No10 or a forward.
Didier Deschamps lifted the Trophy in 1998, but he is the one former player least focused on the 20th anniversary. Didier has a far more important objective! Today, he's the boss, and having been assistant France coach for four years, I know how intense the pressure gets in his position. He has a mission and also the unique opportunity to join that exclusive club of people who have won the World Cup both as a player and a coach.
Who will be the leaders of the France team in Russia? There's Blaise Matuidi, Hugo Lloris … Paul Pogba has all the qualities required to lead this team, but I think he's playing below his best and needs to focus on his job with the ball. For me, he's strayed from the path he was on. It's up to him to rediscover the value of hard work and sacrifice. Meanwhile, we have players up front like Antoine Griezmann and young Kylian Mbappe. They're real assets in attack who frighten everyone and can lift the whole team. It's a well-balanced side, although, for me, the one weakness remains the full-backs. We still haven't found clear starters either on the right or left.
Do France have what it takes to come out on top? Aime Jacquet often said: "People remember who came first and forget who finished second." We won't be able to say we had a good World Cup in Russia if we finish third or fourth. For me, as a former player, a former coach and a fan of the France team, the only acceptable result is victory. Some people say it's too soon, that this team is still young. I don't agree. Didier has been in charge for five years and we have players who play for the best teams in the best leagues in Europe. Didier has all the keys he needs – it's up to him to find the lock.