UEFA.com marks the 20th anniversary of Aimé Jacquet's appointment as France coach, a journey that culminated in FIFA World Cup glory on home soil.
Jacquet took over in 1993 and stayed at the helm for 53 games, a five-year sequence which climaxed in fairy-tale fashion when Les Bleus were crowned global champions courtesy of a 3-0 victory over Brazil in the Paris final. That signalled the end for Jacquet, but he had laid sufficiently strong foundations for France – now under Roger Lemerre – to win UEFA EURO 2000.
However, it was a different story on 17 December 1993. France had recently lost 3-2 to Israel and 2-1 to Bulgaria to miss out on a second successive World Cup. "It was a delicate situation," said Jacquet. As an assistant of dismissed coach Gérard Houllier, Jacquet was not absolved from blame, making his appointment particularly surprising. "I was part of the team that had lost, with Gérard Houllier," the 72-year-old said. "I was his number two and it was logical that people were looking for me to take responsibility; at the beginning I was just meant to be a caretaker."
With peerless knowledge of the French system as a long-time stalwart of the national coaching set-up, he also had no shortage of senior experience, having guided FC Girondins de Bordeaux to the last four of the 1984/85 European Champion Clubs' Cup.
"I had been coaching a long time at Bordeaux and was with the French national team long enough to be able to take charge with conviction," continued Jacquet. "
I came with plenty of knowledge and ambition – it represented a great honour. For me, it was a sign of recognition and a big challenge. I wasn't expecting to be picked but we coaches like a challenge. I was lucky enough to know the squad so I quickly got stuck in."
Jacquet's first match provided a collective sigh of relief for France, who won 1-0 in Naples – their first victory in Italy since 1912 coming courtesy of Youri Djorkaeff. "We had already declined one game because of the upheaval, and that win in Naples was a surprise considering it was a team built in a hurry," Jacquet said. "However, when you begin well your confidence grows. It also reassures everybody, including the players, the public and the management. It settled me down a bit faster."
As it transpired, France would not lose over 90 minutes until 9 November 1996, when a friendly reverse in Denmark ended a 30-game streak without defeat. Though that run included a record 10-0 triumph over Azerbaijan, it is a 3-1 success in Romania in EURO '96 qualifying that, to this day, is pinpointed as the start of things to come.
"Until that point we had a solid team but we lacked the spark to produce a great performance," said Jacquet. "But we delivered in Bucharest. Don't forget that at that time Romania were the fourth-best team in the world, having performed superbly at the World Cup." The final tournament itself, though, finished in disappointment as Jacquet's men succumbed on penalties to the Czech Republic in the semi-finals in England.
It was a transitional period for France, however, and a marked changing of the guard was under way. "We made some decisions," said Jacquet. "I somehow shifted the generations and left out the likes of [Éric] Cantona, [David] Ginola and [Jean-Pierre] Papin. I started afresh with Djorkaeff, [Zinédine] Zidane, all the young talent in France. It was a new era and I must say I was lucky to come across so much talent. That French squad was outstanding."
Under Jacquet and Lemerre they would soon prove it.
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