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Qatar 2022: A swan song for a World Cup winner

There was music blaring from the speakers and the unofficial anthem of France’s 2018 World Cup campaign, “Ramenez la Coupe a la Maison” was sung by all the players and staff.

Somewhere, in a corner of the Luzhniki Stadium’s locker room, the reality was kicking in for Didier Deschamps. He became only the third person in history, after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer to win the coveted trophy both as a player and as a coach.

With his name enshrined forever in the history of both the World Cup and France, Deschamps had little motivation to go on. Or so we thought, because four year later, with France gearing up for Qatar 2022, Deschamps is still here, ready to make his side the third team to win back-to-back trophies and the first one since Brazil did it in 1958 and 1962.

A no-nonsense midfielder in his playing career, Deschamps has definitely translated that tactical nous in his coaching career, who has seen only four teams in the last 21 years. Starting at Monaco between 2001 and 2005, the French manager also coached Juventus for one season, 2006-2007, moved to Marseille between 2009 and 2012 and has featured as France’s coach ever since.

No other coach has led “Les Bleus” more than Deschamps, the only mastermind behind the team to have over 100 matches on the bench. His winning percentage prior to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, 63.6%, is fourth in France’s history and Deschamps will probably leapfrog Aime Jacquet and Roger Lemerre, who have a 64.2% winning percentage.

He can also become only the second coach in history to win two World Cup titles, after Vittorio Pozzo, who won with Italy in 1934 and 1938.

But every good story has its ending, right? And Deschamps’ might just be around the corner.

Speculation has been rife over the past years, with the news of Deschamps’ demise intensifying after the premature elimination at the UEFA EURO 2020 last summer, when France lost on penalties against Switzerland in the Round of 16.

A hugely talented generation of players failed to deliver on the biggest of stages and the lack of chemistry between the top guns was there on display. Reports of disagreements started to flow, as Deschamps saw his authority dwindle. A replacement was already in the wings.

Yet he had earned the right to be trusted and lead France once again, maybe for the last dance, at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. With the pressure mounting, anything but a good result would be a disaster for the reigning champions.

Yet the feeling is that this will be the last dance for Deschamps, after a decade in his position, a change looks to be in the works.

“In terms of [offers from] clubs, I’ve had requests, after the World Cup win for example, but I am not available. Plus, the next World Cup ends in December, and honestly, I don’t feel worn down as a manager. If I could do another ten years of what I’m experiencing now, that would be ideal. Because the very highest level is what I like,” said France’s current manager in December 2021 in an interview for French media outlet L’Equipe.

The writing is on the wall for the former French captain, with a former teammate, and a member of the generation that won the World Cup in 1998, Zinedine Zidane, ready to take charge of “Les Bleus”.

With Deschamps finishing his current contract in December 2022, just after the end of the World Cup, it looks like there is no turning back, especially as Zidane, who was linked with plenty of vacancies at club level, decided to extend the break took from football to focus on the one position he wants most – France.

Whether the added pressure will make or break Deschamps at the 2022 FIFA World Cup is too early to say. He navigated difficult moments with excellent tact and diplomacy, especially when striker Karim Benzema was not called up to the national team between 2016 and 2020, due to problems outside of the field.

Yet this challenge will definitely not be easy, with two key players that formed the backbone of “Les Bleus” in 2018 out due to injuries. As Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba will need replacements for Qatar, Deschamps’ mission will be tough.

The expectations are high, but right now, he will not have anything to lose, despite the criticism of his tactics in previous tournaments. It looks to be a swan song and what better way to go than with another record set?

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