Didier Deschamps’ weekends have become really tricky in 2020. The France head coach wants to watch as many of his players featuring for their clubs every Saturday or Sunday, but the problem is that there are too many contenders now to make the squad that he and his assistants are struggling to watch everyone! They have to settle for highlight reels at times, though they do try to catch as much action as possible every weekend.
At a time when so many of the world’s best national teams are in a state of flux, Deschamps knows how much of a luxury the depth of his France squad is. France have so much talent that, on top of being the current World Champions, they’re the natural favourites for Euro 2020. There’s certainly a feeling right now within the French setup and the local media that Les Bleus have a unique opportunity to build a football dynasty, one that could do even better than the great 1998-2000 generation and even emulate Spain’s domination from 2008 to 2012.
France, who face Portugal on Saturday in the Nations League — stream LIVE, 2:45 p.m. ET, on ESPN+ (U.S. only) — have all the cards in hands to build on their 2018 World Cup success.
Two years ago in Russia, France boasted the second-youngest squad in the competition with an average player age of 25.6 years, just behind Nigeria (25.5). Only Brazil in 1970 won the World Cup with a younger overall team. Some players weren’t in their prime — far from it, even — like Kylian Mbappe or Presnel Kimpembe. Going forward, they will get stronger individually and collectively, more experienced, more mature, more used to winning as well.
— UEFA Nations League: Portugal vs. France, 2.45 p.m. ET, Saturday 11/14, ESPN+ (U.S.)
The defeat in the Euro 2016 final against Portugal was a big learning curve for Deschamps and his players. They took a lot of positives with them on the road to 2018, working tirelessly on the things that didn’t go well like their defensive solidity, game management and a lack of tactical versatility. At the end of 2020, France have more tactical tools than perhaps ever before. Deschamps has plenty of options: in the past 18 months, they have played in a flat 4-4-2, in a diamond 4-4-2, in a 4-3-3, in a 3-4-3, in a 3-4-1-2. Not one position — apart from right-back, perhaps, with just Benjamin Pavard and Leo Dubois — is not stacked with plenty of competition for places.
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Deschamps is very intelligent and has always been opportunistic. When he took over from Laurent Blanc in 2012, he didn’t inherit a very talented squad. Les Bleus were in fact average at the time, apart from the likes of Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery and Hugo Lloris. Yet it wasn’t a problem for the new head coach; if anything, it gave him a blank slate upon which to build his team and his squad like he wanted. And he was very much aware of the potential of the players in the France youth setup at the time.
The talent pool about to come through was exceptional. Back then, France had a wonderful U19 generation ready to shine. A year later, in 2013, they won the U20 World Cup and six years later, five of them won the real World Cup with Deschamps: Paul Pogba, Raphael Varane (although he missed out in 2013 through injury), Samuel Umtiti, Florian Thauvin and Alphonse Areola. That same summer in 2013, the U19s reached the final of the Euros with Benjamin Mendy, Anthony Martial, Adrien Rabiot and Aymeric Laporte. Deschamps was monitoring both competitions, even attending some matches, and he knew the next generations further down were pretty good too.
France coach Deschamps has an embarrassment of riches to call upon. There’s enough talent, if managed well, to dominate world soccer for a generation. FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images
Among the U17 squad that was crowned European champions in 2015, Dayot Upamecano was the leader. In the U19 squad crowned European champions in 2016, France had a certain Mbappe in attack — Deschamps already had an eye on him, tipped by people at his former club Monaco that the Parisian was something really special. Marcus Thuram was also in that team. In the previous U19 team, Kingsley Coman, Lucas Hernandez and Pavard also played their part for a successful squad.
The list goes on.
France were (and still are) stacked with talent in every age group, in every position, but they needed a coach who would actually bring the young stars through to the senior side. Deschamps is very good for that. His man-management skills are fantastic. Thanks to his past as a very successful player, his bonhomie and his sociable attitude, the players trust him. Equally, he knows how to put them in the best environment to succeed. Since 2012, he has handed a France debut to a remarkable 53 players! That’s an incredible amount, and is also indicative of the depth at his disposal. The latest capped players include Eduardo Camavinga (18 years old), Upamecano (22) and Houssem Aouar (22).
Even after handing out all these debuts, Deschamps still has more players available to him. Look at the France U21 squad this month: there’s Aouar and Upamecano, plus Jules Koundé, who has been fantastic with Sevilla and has yet to join the A squad, and Wesley Fofana, who has been superb in Leicester’s defense whenever called upon. Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen) and Amine Gouiri (Nice) could soon be part of it as well.
Again, the list goes on and if you only looked at the centre-back position, it’s even more impressive. Going through the years: Varane and Umtiti (born in 1993), Aymeric Laporte and Kurt Zouma (1994), Kimpembe and Clement Lenglet (1995), Hernandez, Pavard and Abdou Diallo (1996), Koundé and Upamecano (1998), Ibrahim Konate, Dan-Axel Zagadou, Malang Sarr, Evan N’Dicka, Boubacar Kamara and Jean-Clair Todibo (1999), Fofana (2000), William Saliba and Benoit Badiashile (2001), plus Tanguy Kouassi (2002).
Deschamps is under contract until 2022 and the World Cup in Qatar. If things go well, he could even stay longer, until Euro 2024. He will still only be 56 if he extends his deal and given what he’s achieved already, he has a great opportunity to do even better.
Deschamps and his staff are already deep into planning for next summer’s rescheduled Euros, but he knows how bright the future is. The pressure will be high with the talent he has although he is not getting carried away. Wednesday’s 2-0 friendly defeat at the Stade de France against Finland showed that there is no room for complacency and that there’s still plenty of work to be done. But Deschamps expects his players to go from strength to strength between now and the Euros, as well as over the years and tournaments to come.