On paper, France has some of the best players in the world. But you’ve struggled to find the right team on the pitch. Why?
Well since 1998 we’ve won the World Cup, won the European Championship, got to another World Cup Final, won the Confederations Cup. In Europe there’s maybe Spain who could compare themselves favourably with our achievements. We had an exceptional group of players and for 10 years we were top of the pile in terms of results. England for example, have had the best clubs in the world, but since 1966 they’ve won nothing.
As far as I’m concerned points of view and opinions are worthless. You have to look at the stats. To get the right combinations can be difficult. Look at back in the late 1990s.
Don’t you think it was hard for him to find the right balance with Cantona, Ginola, Djorkaeff, Zidane? You can think you’ve got it all right, but the truth is out on the pitch. And the seven matches of the World Cup are seven different truths. Every time. And every time you have to find the right method to win. There are no certainties beforehand. That’s good for journalists, but for coaches it’s about the realities of what happens on the pitch.
Everything that you can put in place beforehand is your convictions and for me there’s a big difference between your convictions and actual certainties. You have convictions as to what will work, but it’s not a definite. It’s the same for every coach. We’re all trying to do our best.
Do you think the french media have been particularly critical of you personally?
I read an article about Carlo Ancelotti. He’s not a guy I know particularly well. People have been trying to shoot him down, but at the end of the day he said the fact that he’s the manager of Chelsea means he’s not as bad as all that.
I’ve been criticised more than the other coaches simply because I’ve lasted longer. It’s not an issue of intensity, but an issue of how long it’s lasted. You get the impression that it’s getting to be more and more like that too. Well OK, I understand. It’s always annoying for the family. But if it’s just about me, I’m perfectly at ease with it. I’m relaxed and I can tell you it’s not forced.
Maybe I don’t realise how intense it is, thankfully. If I took it all to heart I would have killed myself by now! It’s a kind of not caring, but I’ve learnt over the years to deal with it. I’ve been in this line of work for 18 years. I’ve lived with it. And what’s more I was always a player who was in the spotlight. I was always talked about – not necessarily positively either – but I was always there. I got used to these situations and I told myself, ‘There’s a job to be done and I’m going to do it.’
So we’re going to do it and we’re going to do it well and people who don’t like that, I don’t even hold it against them. Really! You’ve got your kids to feed, so go ahead and write your article. I’ve got my stuff to do and I do it the best I can. If people don’t like it… And anyway it’s what makes football interesting.
If there was only one sole truth in football all the problems would be sorted. But everyone has the right to their idea of the truth. The thing is, though, that the only truth that can be put to the test is the coach’s. Everyone else can say what they like and believe passionately that they’re right. But we’ll never know, will we?
What is the most difficult aspect being the coach of France?
It’s the same in every country. It’s to make sure that each individual gives the maximum for the benefit of the group. It’s what makes the difference. It’s tougher and tougher to do it because on the one hand players are more individualistic, what with the media and all the rest of it. I’d say that just by the nature of what we do we have more of an ego than regular people.
I was a player. We’re all the same. But you have to bind them together and make them understand how it works. I remember in 1994 Parreira guided Brazil to a World Cup win in America and he explained afterwards that he’d brought a psychologist along to give a type of seminar where he said, ‘You’ll be stronger together and you’ll all earn more money once you’ve won the World Cup rather than tearing each other apart beforehand with games based on the ego of trying to be the best individually. And then you’ll all get amazing contracts to go and play in Europe’.
Parreira knew. Everybody knows that this is at the heart of the matter. But there are those who hear it and take it on board and those who pretend that they hear it.
Are there times when you prefer to do something else for a living or is it very rewarding to be always coach of the national team?
Not at all. And the only other job I wanted was to be President of the Republic! You never know. You can only do it for five years before an election!
Patrice Evra seems first choice for France these days. Are you impressed by the ways he has developed at Manchester United?
Bayern Munich were happy with him! He’s got a really good mentality. He’s sorted out his defensive limitations thanks to being at Manchester United and thanks to the English league. He’s good with the ball at his feet. He’s kept that ability to go forward, but he’s really improved that rigorous defensive aspect of his game and the intensity in one on one duels that he didn’t have before.
Are you sure that Franck Ribery can find his best form in South Africa, given the season has had?
Absolutely I believe that he’ll be on top of his game in South Africa. There are players who can be tired at the end of a long season and there players who will be knocked out of their stride by a season where they don’t play regularly. I have no fears for Franck. He’s a guy who can be at the absolute top of his game with a month of preparation.
You don’t want too many players without much game time. You need players who are in a certain rhythm. And you do get a bit more time to prepare for a World Cup than for a European Championship.
It’s good for players to have had a good season. That way they’re happy in themselves. They don’t have to do too much to justify themselves. That’s good. But to have a few who haven’t played is no bad thing. They’ll be helped and brought along by the others – and by the preparations. At the end of the day it’s about finding a balance. You don’t want too many who’ve played a lot and you don’t a load of players who haven’t played much.
What is your opinion on the return of Patrick Vieira to England for Manchester City? Are you satisfied with his performance so far and can he still be a real asset for France?
Yes, I watched him against Wigan and he even contributed some assists. He lacks a bit of match sharpness to get him up to speed where one on one combat is concerned, but it’s only by playing that he’ll get there. He’s got to play. I’m disappointed that City got knocked out of the FA Cup because I wanted Patrick to play as many games as possible. I don’t see that he’s playing any differently than he did at Arsenal. Control, pass, follow, support.
Where he’s perhaps not doing so much is in the air and in winning the ball back. But he needs matches. It’s good that he’s won a place in the team. It means his coach is putting his confidence in him and that means something.
City are playing for a place in the Champions League so there’s something to play for at that club. Mancini’s not playing him for fun. It’s because he thinks he can bring something to the team.
What did the defeat against Spain in early March teach you about the level you need to reach to be truly competitive?
To beat Spain you have to be at the top of your game at all levels. If you’re not you’re in big trouble. They’re good in every department. Attack-wise we know all about them. The way they keep hold of the ball we know about. But defensively too they’re very tough. They have guys who are excellent in one on ones and they have a great keeper.
They’re really solid and a real pleasure to watch, actually. They’re all aged between 25 and 28 and they’re a fine group. I’d definitely prefer to avoid them until the final!
What qualities does an international side need to win the World Cup?
You need the winning habit, of course. You have to be mentally tough because all the matches are difficult and tiring. You have to know how to cope with that, to be able to recuperate well to be able to go and do it all over again.
It’s a month of complete investment of the group. Each match is of the highest level. You can’t relax and lay back. If you don’t give everything in each match you can be in real trouble, so it’s all about having this ability to be focused and determined and to stick together for a month. And those are football’s real values.
What is your future after the World Cup?
I haven’t even thought about it. I’m 100 per cent involved in what I’m doing now. I’ve always worked like that. They say to sort out your future properly you have to be absolutely in the present. I’ve been to one World Cup. I’m about to go to a second and I want things to go better than the last one. I’m going to do everything in my power to make things go well and I’m not thinking about anything else. I’ve got plenty of time to think about the future afterwards.