Serial winner Desailly: Euro triumph legitimized our world cup glory

Marcel Desailly

Former France captain Marcel Desailly opens up to Yaw Ofosu Larbi about world and European cup triumphs, the marvel of France’ current golden generation, why England can surprise at the Euros, why it is too early to hail Zidane as a coaching great and his frustration at low representation of Ghanaian talent at the highest level.

The Euros is here again and I am wondering the memories it invokes for you .

I’m happy it’s in France first of all. We’ve had a lot of issues on security. The government has said they’ll put force to protect the people either at the fanzone or at the stadium so I have happy that it will be under control. As far as the football is concerned, there are a lot of quality teams. I am for France obviously but aside France I know we might have surprises. I do believe that England will have the opportunity to show up as that kind of surprise

What was it that made you love playing at the Euros?

It was huge even though In 2000 I was already a World Champion in 1998. After the world cup, in 1999 we played well in friendlies and qualification games and in 2000 BANG!, we won the tournament through that  amazing scenario at the end where we got the extra time goal scored by Trezeguet.  It was a great feeling.

You were a world Champion in 1998 and then you won the Euros two years later. To you, what does winning tournaments like these do for a player? 

It gets you high to the top of the roof of the football world. For us what was good is that, in1998 we were not the best team. A lot of people talk about being the best to win tournaments but we were not the best. Brazil, the Dutch and the Argentines were better than us so people kept saying we did not play major teams enroute to winning the World Cup. We played Saudi Arabia, Denmark and Paraguay who were not that big. The Euros gave us the opportunity to beat all the major teams. We beat Czech who were a good side then, the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Italians so we made it finally and you’re sure of yourself now. It was really good for me. I was playing for Chelsea at the time. I was quite old already because I was 32 so it was something very important for me. As a professional soccer player, you need to win and win when you have the luck to be in a good generation. To be with a team at the correct time is huge that is why I have the freedom now that I have retired because I know I have won all the major trophies there are.

There are favourites for any tournament. I know you will mention France but can you line up other countries who you feel are strong enough to pose a threat to them at the Euros this term? 

England can really be the surprise. They qualified quite easily in their group. Nobody is expecting them really and they have some young players who do not feel any pressure because they do not have any responsibility. They are not yet top class players who have heavy pressure on their shoulders so I do believe that England can surprise us. There an obvious one in Belgium as well. We are expecting them because when you look at their team, individually they have a huge squad. The problem though is that can they work as a collective unit?  I don’t think so.

France coach, Didier Deschamps was your colleague both at Marseille and in the France team. Is he the man to lead France to European glory this time? 

We are coming from far. We are coming from 2010 with Domenech where we had a problem with the team. After him we had Laurent Blanc but that didn’t work out too. So for almost two generations of players that these two coaches had the opportunity to succeed but it didn’t work. We have been very unlucky. We are only expecting that withDeschamps and the new crop of players like Varane, Pogba and Griezmann who is responsible for the offensive animation in the team, it looks like they are stable players. These players are doing well but not proper leaders of their clubs yet. I hope they make it for the Euros maybe we might think that it should be like Germany in 2010. We knew that they were going to be a top team in future.

We have seen the French squad. From Hugo Lloris to Olivier Giroud. My concern is about Karim Benzema. What do you make of his exclusion from the team and how vital is losing a player of his quality for a tournament like this? 

It is worrying for sure. Didier Deschamps and the President of the Federation made the decision together not to take him. There has been a lot of talk about it in the newspapers, his issues with Valbuena and they finally made the decision to exclude him from the team. During a tournament, any problem that comes, spreads and destroys the attitude in camp. I’m sure that is what they didn’t want. It’s been a hard decision. It’s also very sad to see that a top player like Benzema is not part of the Euros but we have to accept it. The two at the top have made their decision.

What do you make of the young players who are coming through for France? Martial,Coman, Griezmann. 

Yes! You can add Pogba, Varane to that list. They are surrounded by some experienced ones as well. For Pogba he is now doing well. Griezmann has also done well in Spain. We want consistency in the performance because there are a lot of players who come up like this and later on you don’t see them anymore. Kingsley Coman, WOW fine player but he is not consistent in his performance. He does not give his all for 90 minutes like we hope he will. A lot of readjustments need to be done; a lot of improvement but the main thing is that the talent is there. If you take the squad that France has now and you compare to our squad at the time,(take Zidane out of the equation)and  I can tell you that the quality is much more in this squad than ours.

Talk of Zidane, you played with him and had a good relationship as well. He has just won the Champions League with Real Madrid. How good is Zinedine Zidane as a coach? 

Calm down. Zidane was a great player, what he has done with Real Madrid is good but he has followed all the processes, he has all his coaching badges, he went into the academy to understudy and work on his philosophy of the game. Luckily his assistant now is good also and he had the opportunity to change things when Benitez was sacked. A bit of the luck was in the opportunity that he had and he made it. Now is when the big job is coming but presently let’s just enjoy. It is a real pleasure to see a player who is legitimate to be in this position. He has shown that he respects the coaching process and at the same time he has been clever. He has reached the maximum you can reach with a club. It’s great.

Lets dwell a bit more on coaching. France has produced quite a number of fine Black players but we do not quite see them at the top level of management. Why is that? 

Claude Makelele tried with Bastia but it didn’t work out very well. We also have AntoineKombouare who is a coach. We should have more but is coaching what they really want to do? I have gone through the coaching courses and I have completed now. It is not an easy thing to do. Do they have the desire to do coaching? That is the bigquestion. We may have to encourage them a bit more.

Previously, we heard talks about you wanting to coach Ghana. Have you buried that dream?

We have been discussing this issue many many times. I feel that being able to be in Ghana and investing in Ghana, creating sport facilities and providing jobs for people is already quite a lot I am doing for my country. I have another focus for the meantime. Ghana has a coach and we are doing quite well. A lot of expectation for the African Cup of Nations so there’s no actuality on this issue.

Ghana have not been able to do quite well. I am talking about quite well in the sense that we get to the top level and somehow we do not win it. What do you think is the cause and how can we get over that barrier because it’s been over 34 years since we last won a trophy as a nation? 

We have to accept that it’s sports. Many other nations have the same motivation and desire but I think that at the academy level, there’s the need for a structure. We have too many players abroad. We have the legitimate ones who could go and have that experience of the high level. For me I think we have to control the rate at which players travel outside but to do that we need a better league.  If the league is not that strong, if the infrastructure is not good enough, if we do not have sponsors that’ll help it becomes difficult and it’s not easy because we have to compete with the English premiership for interest. It has to start from the grassroots. Too many are coming up, they go abroad, they are second choices out there just because the focus and the interest is the money. I don’t think I have the secret but we will do well I believe.

Who are youfavourite Ghanaian players of all time?

This is a hard one. We’ve had some top class players but I think my top three will be Abedi, Tony Yeboah and Asamoah Gyan. Abedi is my friend, I played with him in Marseille and he has been able to prove that he can succeed in Ghana and do it on the international stage as well. Abedi is a good example of consistency at the highest level.

Who are your favorites in the current crop of players in the Black Stars?

Christian Atsu has a great ability and capacity but I wish he could at least play for his club. He has been moving around for quite some time which I do not think is too good. I believe in him, I believe in his capacity. Of course luckily we have Andre and Jordan who are quite stable in their clubs and it gives them experience of the high level. We need more good players but these guys have a lot of potential.



By Yaw Ofosu Larbi |

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