Tresor: I’m proud to see how far France have come

  • Marius Tresor looks back on his France career

  • The central defender played at two FIFA World Cup™ competitions

  • He relives each of his four international goals

Marius Tresor began his France career only two years after arriving in the country and at a time when the fortunes of the national team were low.

Twelve years later, the forward-turned-centre-half retired with back problems following two appearances at the FIFA World Cup™, the second of them ending with a classic semi-final against West Germany. The sight of Tresor scoring a superb volley in that game and then celebrating it with tears in his eyes is the stuff of World Cup legend.

“I came so close to the greatest prize of all,” remarked Tresor years later, having seen subsequent generations of Bleus complete the job he and his team-mates started by turning France into a team of winners.

One of his country's all-time greats, Tresor spoke to about an outstanding career in which he made 65 international appearances, 23 of them as captain. You used to play up front. Did that help you become a better defender?

Marius Tresor: I think so. There were a few times when I tried to guess what opposing strikers were going to do by imagining what I would do in the same position. I’m not the only one who’s done that. Laurent Blanc was a No10 when he started out and he went on to become a great centre-half. I loved to bring the ball out of defence. My first goal for Ajaccio came against Rennes, when I picked up the ball up 20 yards from our goal and went the whole length of the pitch before beating none other than Marcel Aubour (the former France keeper and the country’s first choice at the 1966 FIFA World Cup). A lot of people have talked to me about that goal.

How did you become a defender?

When I arrived at Ajaccio my coach played me out on the left or right wing but never down the middle because he already had two out-and-out centre-forwards. I was new to the club, so I had to earn my place in the side somehow. I agreed to give it a go in defence and after the first training session the coach came up to me and said that’s where I’d be playing from then on. The first match went well and it wasn’t long before I was in the starting line-up. I never looked back and two years later I was in the France team. It all happened so quickly for me. If you’d told me all that when I was still in Guadeloupe, I’d have thought you were joking (laughs). I’d never have believed that I’d end up having the career I had in that position.

Football, 1982 World Cup Finals, Second Phase, Group D, Madrid, Spain, 28th June 1982, France 1 v Austria 0, France's Marius Tresor with the ball (Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

When did you feel you were an established France player?

It happened pretty quickly. Georges Boulogne, who was the national team coach at the time, gave me my debut against Bulgaria [on 4 December 1971] and put me at left-back, a position I’d never played in before. At the end of the game all the reporters and my team-mates congratulated me. My second game for Les Bleus still stands out for me, even though we lost 2-0, to Romania. I played at right-back in that one, which was also a first. I was up against Anghel Iordanescu, who a few months earlier had made a fool out of Czechoslovakia’s Karol Dobias, who was up there with Brazil’s Carlos Alberto as the best right-back in the world at the time. Iordanescu only got past me once, though, and I got the man of the match award. I never tackled as much as I did that night (laughs)!

Can you talk us through your first goal for France?

It was against West Germany in Gelsenkirchen in 1973, a game we lost 2-1. I was a long way out from goal and my central-defensive partner, Jean-Pierre Adams, shouted to me: “Shoot! Shoot!” I was trying to find someone in a better position but I don’t know what came over me – I listened to him and it went in (laughs)!

Your second goal for the national team was pretty special too.

Yes, it came against Brazil at the Maracana in 1977. When I was a kid everyone was crazy about Brazil. Pele, Garrincha, Didi and the rest of them were our heroes. Whenever we played tournaments we called our teams Santos, Fluminense or Flamengo. I was in total awe of Brazilian football, so to help France get a 2-2 draw in a legendary stadium like that was amazing. I went up for the header with Luis Pereira, who played for Atletico Madrid at the time. I loved him as a player and the fact I got above him to score made me twice as happy.

Your third France goal came against Luxembourg in 1978, when you dribbled past everyone.

Yes, it was like the goal I scored for Ajaccio against Rennes. I picked the ball up about 20 yards out from our goal and went the length of the pitch again. Luxembourg were a pretty small team at the time, though.

What memories do you have of your first World Cup, in 1978, when France went out in the first round?

France’s last World Cup before that was England 1966. We beat Bulgaria 3-1 at the Parc des Princes to qualify, so just getting to Argentina was an achievement for us after a 12-year absence [from the world finals]. I think we could have gone a lot further if only we’d realised that it was just the start. Mentally, we weren’t ready. There’s also the fact that we’d been drawn in the same group as the hosts and Italy, so we knew it was going to be really tough.

How much did that experience help prepare you for what came next?

There’s nothing bigger than taking part in the World Cup and it definitely helped us prepare for the future. We made a terrible start to the tournament four years later, losing 3-1 to England. Everyone thought we were going out in the first round again, but we said to ourselves there was no way that was going to happen again. We turned things around and made it all the way to the semi-finals.

You scored in that semi-final against West Germany, putting your team 2-1 up at the start of extra-time. Was that your best goal for France?

No. I preferred the one against Brazil (laughs)! My goal at the Maracana got us a draw; the Germany goal led to a defeat. I told Patrick Battiston afterwards that I’d have preferred it if I hadn’t scored and his chance, when he famously got taken out by [Harald] Schumacher, had gone in. It would have taken us to the World Cup Final.

It was a painful and traumatic loss, but was it another game you learned from?

You have to remember that France became European champions for the first time just two years later. I didn’t make that tournament because of my back problems but I was so pleased to see my former team-mates win. Then, two years later, we finished third at the 1986 World Cup with an amazing team. OK, so the Germans stopped us once again but the quarter-final against Brazil is one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen.

How did you feel when you saw France win the World Cup at last in 1998?

As someone who used to play for France, it was really emotional. Even in 2018, it felt like I was part of the team. When you think about all the great players who’ve worn the jersey, it was richly deserved. I’m so proud to see how far France have come. They’re one of football’s leading nations now.

One last question: which strikers gave you the most problems during your career?

At international level it has to be Gerd Muller. I played against him once. We lost 2-1 and he scored both West Germany’s goals (the match in which Tresor scored his first goal for France). He knew how to lie low. He was so clever at that. You’d never see him, but there he was on the scoresheet. Bernard Lacombe was right up there among the French players. He was a pain (laughs)! He had no fear. But the best striker I saw in my career in France was Josip Skoblar. I played against him and with him at Marseille and I’ll never forget what he did in 1971-72: score 44 goals and not one of them penalties. Just amazing! Like Lacombe, he was one of those strikers who made you feel like you were in for a bad night (laughs).