"We came to Germany with three objectives," said Ludovic Batelli on the eve of the final. "And we have achieved two of them." His team had qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, and they had reached the final. "Now," he said, "I have to motivate them to reach out their arms and search for the trophy. I wanted to see a flame burning in their eyes." When the third objective had been achieved, he was quick to describe the success as a reward for his staff's dedication and hard work over a period much longer than the final tournament in Germany. And he highlighted a 1-0 victory over the host team, Serbia, in the elite round as the turning point. "That is where the squad came into its own," he said. "
Against a very strong team and in front of 12,000 spectators. That was where we became a real unit, both defensively and offensively."
In the interim, Batelli had built on that, taking a squad of 18 players to a tournament in Korea in May; giving them a detailed preparation programme for their holidays; and then getting them together for two training camps to prepare for Germany. At the first, an 11-day get-together in Brittany, 22 players went through 17 training sessions aimed at getting them into physical shape and shaping up attacking strategies. At the second, in Strasbourg during the week before travelling, the emphasis was on fine-tuning defensive play. "The aim was to have an organisation and a system," he said. "A strong defensive foundation that would give us opportunities to attack."
The former goalkeeper had joined the coaching staff at the French federation in 2013, backed by a solid reputation for dedication and hard work in second-tier football in France and a spell in Belgium. After working with the U20s and the U16s, he had started with the U18s in 2014, leading them through 11 get-togethers en route to the U19 victory in Germany, focusing on "the balance of the squad and the balance within the squad". He also communicated a footballing philosophy based on a set of clear attacking and defensive principles – more of the former than the latter, incidentally.
Batelli’s selection process was based on job descriptions and tactical awareness – especially with regard to transitions in both directions. In addition to performance, pace and technical ability, he looked for players who would contribute positively to the collective life and spirit within the group – aware that this would be an important consideration during a programme that entailed five weeks together.
The collective spirit was immediately tested when a distracted team made a poor start to the tournament, going 2-0 down to England within 10 minutes and then losing 2-1. "Maybe those 10 minutes made us win the tournament," he reflected. "Because everybody realised that, if we continued like that, it would be a catastrophe. They really worked for each other, with great quality, during the matches against the Netherlands, against Portugal and, above all, in the final. Against Italy, if you don’t defend well, you’re in trouble. There were three key points: play as quickly as we could on the break; use the wings; and defend well, with our back five closing down spaces. We also set out to win the second ball. It was a top-quality performance, a perfect tactical game."
When the final whistle sounded, his prime reaction was to embrace and try to console his Italy counterpart, Paolo Vanoli. And then to share his satisfaction with his coaching staff. When his captain lifted the trophy, there was a flame burning in Batelli's eyes.