"I've been working with national teams for many years, across all the age categories, and this is my best moment as a coach." Jean-Claude Giuntini was understandably satisfied after his team had lifted the trophy in Burgas, despite his professed credo that "results aren't the most important thing. It's more important to perform well and to play good football". France's first Under-17 victory outside their homeland could be seen as a just reward for a man who perfectly matches the player-development job description of "coach and educator".
As a player, the Giuntini name appeared on second-division teamsheets handed in by US Boulogne and Chaumont FC. But, by the age of 26, he was already indulging his passion for coaching at Union Etoile Sportive Montmorillonnaise and, after a couple of single-season jobs, spent the best part of a decade in Brive with ES Aiglons. His talents in the youth development sector led him towards 'Conseiller Technique' roles for the French Football Federation (FFF), starting in the Rhone region in 1998 and then, five years later, in Paris, where he began to appear on lists of coaching staff with the national teams. In recent seasons, he has been responsible for the U16 side and, prior to the victorious 2014/15 campaign, he had led the France U17s in 2011/12.
His philosophy with youth-development teams is "to guide and encourage the players to become self-reliant in their approach to the game. Apart from developing technique and tactical maturity, this includes a capacity for self-analysis and acquiring enough emotional intelligence to cope with specific situations and the demands of the game in general. As a coach and educator, you can pass on your own experience and warn them what to expect, but this has to be done in the form of guided discovery. That's why we encourage the players to identify and establish a set of basic rules, with the captain and the vice-captain taking a degree of responsibility for their implementation".
He has been witness to steady improvements in the age group. "I would say that the boys are better equipped to play under pressure. The first touch is better. So are the skills and pace. I can't give statistics from the tournament, but I am sure that the real playing time has increased. I would say that today's players have a better knowledge of the different possibilities for attacking and can find better solutions in constructing attacks. On the other hand, I feel that we are still short of productivity."
His preparations for the final tournament were based on two short training camps and, after the elite round, observations of players who could potentially enrich the squad. In Bulgaria, he underlined the collective strength of a group which was highly focused on the final objective and which, apart from a couple of excursions to the nearby city of Burgas, preferred to spend downtime 'at home' in the hotel complex.
Giuntini's approach to the job is reflected by his response to questions about 'star' striker Odsonne Edouard. "He has always been a finisher – and we wanted him to behave like a forward and find ways to unbalance the opposition. But he made a lot of progress during the tournament. He improved his participation in the build-up; he improved his defensive reaction to the loss of the ball." It is symptomatic of Giuntini's ability to add collective virtues to a group which was rich in outstanding individuals.