David Owen: France’s Deschamps on verge of achieving unique record at Euro 2020 

June 8 – I seem to have spent most of my adult life watching Didier Deschamps win football trophies.

And indeed the stocky former midfield general from the French Basque ham town of Bayonne has a personal honours-list that most in the game would envy.

At club level alone as a player he won, among others, two Champions Leagues, three Italian and two French national league titles and the FA Cup.

He then wasted little time in demonstrating his potential as a manager, guiding Monaco unexpectedly to the 2004 Champions League final in Gelsenkirchen, where they were admittedly dismantled by another surprise package in the shape of a Porto side managed by a chap called José Mourinho.

But it is in the international game that Deschamps’s achievements truly stand out.

Even so, it was with a shock that I realised that if his much-fancied France squad were to triumph in the delayed Euro 2020 tournament – which kicks off in Rome on Friday (June11) with a clash between two improving teams, Italy and Turkey – Deschamps would become the first man in history to win both the World Cup and the European Championship as both player and manager.

The first in this potentially unique set of victories came back in 1998.

Deschamps was captain of Aimé Jacquet’s functional but less-than-inspiring side which warmed up for a World Cup on home soil with a mixed bag of results, including a loss to Russia, draws with Norway and Sweden, and wins over Spain, Belgium and Finland.

I was living in France at the time and could sense, for all this inconsistency, that something was building, with Zinedine Zidane plainly a prize asset.

This was not yet an especially widespread view; at a pre-tournament planning session back in London, I remember provoking some surprise among newspaper colleagues by predicting that France would win.

By this time, one of the last pieces in Jacquet’s trophy-winning jigsaw had slotted into place, with Emmanuel Petit joining Deschamps in the engine-room.

Petit’s presence made the transition between what was incontestably an outstanding defence and the wizardry of Zidane and Youri Djorkaeff further up the field much smoother.

Whereas Deschamps, in journalist and author Philippe Auclair’s words, “seldom ventured beyond the halfway line”, Petit would choose his moments to maraud forward – as he did to great effect in the closing moments of France’s dream final against Brazil.

Two years’ later, at Euro 2000, the 31-year-old Deschamps was still on-field leader of a French side now universally recognised as formidable, and blessed with significantly more attacking talent than the 1998 iteration.

I managed to redress the balance from my forecasting coup in 1998, predicting in print that this time they would not win.

Having proved me wrong, via a somewhat fortunate 2-1 win over Alessandro Del Piero’s Italy, Deschamps announced his retirement from international football after amassing over a century of caps.

It was 18 years before the by then former Monaco, Juventus and Marseille boss was able to add the third part of what would be a unique quadruple.

At the Russia 2018 World Cup, France gathered momentum as the tournament progressed, eventually beating Croatia, their semi-final victims in Paris 20 years earlier, 4-2 in an entertaining final.

If they had a scare, it was perhaps when falling 2-1 behind to Leo Messi’s Argentina just after half-time in their Round of 16 clash.

For the subsequent half-hour, though, the astonishing teenager Kylian Mbappé ran riot, powering Deschamps’s Bleus to a 4-3 victory.

That brings us to the Euros.

Deschamps has already passed up one golden opportunity to win this as coach, leading his squad to the final of Euro 2016 at the Stade de France, only to go down to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.

Over the course of the next month, he has the chance to make up for that disappointment – although, if France do manage to win, they will have done so the hard way.

Mbappé, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kanté & Co have been drawn in an exceptionally powerful-looking Group F, which features three of the four Euro 2016 semi-finalists.

What is more, Deschamps’s team faces the handicap of playing their first two matches effectively away from home.

First, on June 15, they face a humdinger against old rivals Germany at Munich’s Allianz Arena.

The stage will then switch to Budapest four days later where they must take on the talented Hungarians in their backyard.

France’s group phase then winds up, still in the Hungarian capital, on June 23, with the small matter of a rematch against Portugal, the European champions.

If there is a silver lining, it is that the format of another bloated football tournament may well enable three of the four teams in this classic Group of Death to qualify.

And if France, as tournament favourites, go on to justify punters’ faith by lifting the trophy, Deschamps, one of football’s arch-pragmatists, will have achieved a quartet of victories unmatched by anyone since the then European Nations’ Cup made its bow in 1960.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1638845369labto1638845369ofdlr1638845369owedi1638845369sni@n1638845369ewo.d1638845369ivad1638845369