Deschamps has restored confidence, unity to France
PARIS (AP) As a combative midfielder, Didier Deschamps won just about everything in a playing career that saw him captain France to the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship titles, and lead Marseille to Champions League victory in 1993.
He took to club management with equal success, guiding Monaco to the European Cup final in 2004 - eliminating Real Madrid and Chelsea along the way - and in his first season as Marseille coach he won the league title in 2009-10, ending the club's 18-year wait.
The 45-year-old Deschamps, who made 103 international appearances, took charge of the national team after Euro 2012, replacing former France teammate Laurent Blanc. A firm but patient disciplinarian known for his good man-management skills, Deschamps initially struggled to get the team to gel and there were some patchy performances in qualifying, and a resounding 3-0 loss to Brazil on a tour to South America last June.
With France struggling for form, he needed to wake the team up. He did so by dropping the most talented player, Karim Benzema, who had gone 15 international matches without a goal. Benzema's poor form was becoming the focal point of every news conference and was clearly becoming a strain on Deschamps.
He showed he can be ruthless when he has to, replacing Benzema with Olivier Giroud for three straight games. It sent a clear signal to the players that there are no favorites in his side - regardless of talent and reputation - and that everyone has their chance under his leadership.
It proved a masterstroke as Benzema clearly took the message on board, twice coming off the bench to score against Finland and Australia, and he returned to the starting lineup for the second leg of the playoffs against Ukraine, with France trailing 2-0. Benzema played a pivotal role in the comeback, scoring in a 3-0 win that sent France through.
Deschamps knows how to get the best out of players, another example being the impressive form of winger Mathieu Valbuena, who has played considerably better for France than he has for Marseille this season. He is also not afraid to take risks - picking 20-year-old Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba to face the mighty Spanish midfield in World Cup qualifying.
With Deschamps in charge, everyone gets a chance.