France coach on Benzema, past problems with Payet and France's chances at Euro 2016.
World Soccer: Are you pleased with the form France have shown in the build-up?
Didier Deschamps: Well, every team progresses, mine included. The players are getting to know each other better and I’ve a lot of young players. You can’t pick up experience from one day to the next – you need time. We’re going into the tournament looking to win it, of course. But then there are lots of other teams with the same objective.
The whole Karim Benzema issue hasn’t exactly helped, has it…
I met with the president of the federation, Noel Le Graet, and we discussed the situation. Form and performance level is an important part of the selection process, but it’s not the only one for the French national team. A player’s ability to work collaboratively within the group, to show exemplary behaviour and to contribute to the harmony of the group is also taken into consideration. All these factors meant we decided Karim couldn’t take part in Euro 2016.
The decision will have pleased some and disappointed others…
That’s how it is. I’m here to pick players and that’s what I’ll do. People can have a view on the hows and the whys, and they can choose to express those views or not. But at the end of the day there are only two people who decide: my president and me. It’s not a problem. If I don’t want to pick someone, then I don’t pick them. It’s all about choices and competition for places. There are around 40 players who were in the mix, but I can only choose 23.
Dimitri Payet is an interesting case. You had some issues with him in the past…
I’m only interested in the footballer. It’s true that at one point I wasn’t satisfied with certain things Dimitri did, but that was purely on the pitch. I heard he wasn’t happy about that and I’m glad he wasn’t happy. I’ve never wanted a player who’s not been picked to have a big smile on his face. The fact that I brought him back for the friendlies in March shows that, for me, it’s all about what happens on the pitch.
You’ve always been adamant that the collective well-being of the group is the most important thing…
The collective is the most important, for Dimitri as well as everyone else. There will always be players who’ll be disappointed, even within a squad of 23. For every game at the Euros there will be 12 guys who are disappointed. But we’re going into this tournament with a common objective. Good team spirit, with everyone pulling in the right direction, is essential.
You have got a good mix of youth and experience in the squad. Is getting that blend right vital for a tournament?
Age isn’t a problem for me. You can have talent and quality at any age. And you can have a kid who’s really mature at 18, and a 30-year-old who never will be. So if a 20-year-old is the right player to pick, then I’ll pick him. You have to understand that it’s much tougher at international level, though, so as an international coach you perhaps have to be more forgiving of a youngster’s mistakes.
But you balance that out with what they bring to the party; enthusiasm, a carefree attitude, power, speed. It’s about balance too. You can’t only have youngsters in a squad, in the same way that you can’t only have older guys. I don’t spend much time thinking about age. When I was a young player myself I couldn’t stand hearing “you’ve got time”. No, you haven’t got time. You’ve got a short career..
How do you feel about your group?
Well, we need to start well against Romania, and then back that up with a performance against Albania before meeting Switzerland in our last group game. We respect all of our opponents, that’s for sure. And at the end of the day, we’ll find who’s the best out on the pitch.
Interview by Howard Johnson