Didier Deschamps is eagerly awaiting a return to Stamford Bridge, a prospect he describes as a "great pleasure", but a mighty UEFA Champions League test at Chelsea FC will demand much of the Olympique de Marseille coach's leadership skills.
An imperious and intelligent midfielder in his day, the 41-year-old Frenchman holds only good memories of his one season at Chelsea, which culminated in Gianluca Vialli's side winning the FA Cup in 2000. "Returning to Stamford Bridge will give me great pleasure," Deschamps told UEFA.com ahead of Tuesday's encounter.
"Although the stadium itself is renovated and much bigger, the wonderful ambience which I experienced remains. English grounds always seemed full and at the Bridge there were always families in the stadium and a great match atmosphere. But Chelsea now have a very competitive European team with something like 20 internationals – a great compensation if you have injured or suspended players."
Having won the competition twice, with Marseille in 1993 and Juventus three years later, Deschamps wholly understands his old side's hunger to be European champions. "Without hesitation, the Champions League is the best of all competitions," he said. "
Not only do Chelsea want to win this trophy, they are among four or five teams that can legitimately expect to do so.
"They won the [Premier League] title last season and are already performing really well. I know their manager [Carlo Ancelotti] well. He was my coach for six months at Juventus and I also often played against him. I like his style of football and I'll also be pleased to see Carlo again."
Despite all the bonhomie, Deschamps has serious work afoot. Losing at home to FC Spartak Moskva on Matchday 1 was a worrying sign for Marseille; they started the previous two UEFA Champions League seasons with home defeats and failed to qualify for the round of 16 on each occasion. Moreover two losses, two draws and eight goals conceded in OM's first six Ligue 1 games indicate that the man who captained France to glory at the 1998 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2000 must demonstrate one of his foremost qualities.
"Leadership is something natural, something that you are born with," he offered. "It can be developed, it can be worked on, but in a team sport the leader is automatically recognised by those around him. You cannot wake up one morning and say: 'That's it! Tomorrow I will be a leader and a captain.'"
Thus, Deschamps' transition from player to coach was a natural one, albeit rather quicker than he expected. "I only had three days of holiday between retiring as a player [at Valencia CF] and becoming a coach [at AS Monaco FC]. My ex-team-mates and my ex-coaches saw a coach in me, but I wasn't aware I had those abilities."
Any doubts he had were quickly dismissed as Deschamps led Monaco to the UEFA Champions League final in 2004 – a campaign that featured a semi-final elimination of Chelsea thanks to a 2-2 second-leg draw in London. He has since lifted a Serie B title with Juventus plus last term's Ligue 1 and League Cup double with Marseille, their first trophies since Deschamps left for Juve in 1994. Given he played under Aimé Jacquet, Marcello Lippi and Raymond Goethals, perhaps some of his old coaches' talent has rubbed off on Deschamps?
"I was lucky to have a lot of coaches and to name the very good ones is easy, but I also think that I had some bad coaches from whom I learned too," said Deschamps. "They did some things that were not good which, nevertheless, didn't prevent us from having very good results.
I don't think there are different methods from one coach to the other; I think there are different characters. Some coaches have more credibility or charisma than others."
If Deschamps can bring the force of his personality to bear on his players at Stamford Bridge, sparks may fly.
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