The 2022 World Cup is here and France are in Qatar as defending champions.
Unsurprisingly, Les Bleus head into the tournament as one of the favourites, though they are set to be without some key players in Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.
But, despite this, Didier Deschamps still has an abundance of options to choose from and many of the players were there in 2018.
Therefore, you can understand why the French are confident, and 1998 World Cup winner Marcel Desailly expects France to be in contention for the title again.
Speaking exclusively to talkSPORT.com, the former Chelsea and AC Milan defender said: “France can make it. Lots of injuries, but I do believe Didier Deschamps will readjust his tactical setup.
“He was very clever in 2018 to choose the right tactical setup to allow the team to be very strong defensively, and at the same time, they had an amazing weapon on the counter-attack in Kylian Mbappe.
“The past year, year and a half, he’s had the time to integrate a lot of new players into the system and help grow that winning mentality in the squad, so don’t fear, France will be there.”
Desailly is a living legend in France because of his 116 caps and the fact he helped them win the tournament when Deschamps was his captain.
He was born in Ghana but considers himself 100 per cent French, and his passion for Les Bleus is clear.
But to go with this passion, there is an undoubted knowledge and understanding of the French squad and manager.
In truth, very few people in the football world know Deschamps better than Desailly.
And he believes his former captain won’t be forced out, no matter what happens in Qatar – even with his contract set to expire after the tournament.
“This is only the start. He has been in power for ten years. He started well and won a lot.
“For Didier, this is not the end of an era. If we finish in the quarter-final or semi-final, you can not say, ‘oh, Didier out’.
“I don’t think people will push him away, but he might say, ‘look, I didn’t do well, I will pull out, and I want a new challenge’.”
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Desailly is currently in Qatar to work as a pundit for beIN SPORTS, but he is also an ambassador for FIFA’s Spotlight: Your Dreams campaign that aims to shine a light on artistic talent from all styles and levels of recognition from all over the world.
And it’s clear he can’t wait to see the artistic talent of Kylian Mbappe.
The forward has had to deal with many off-field rumours suggesting he has been disruptive at Paris Saint-Germain.
There have been concerns that these rumoured issues could spill over into the national team, but Desailly believes Mbappe will be focused on the World Cup.
“The controversy around him is gone. He has rectified everything by playing well for Paris Saint-Germain.
“And by his word, he doesn’t know about this information that came out (regarding his future).
“Mbappe is a killer. He wants to be the best and it’s through the World Cup that you are going to be the best.
“You are competing for the Ballon d’Or, and if you perform well in the World Cup, you will be one of the contenders for the next Ballon d’Or.
“(Lionel) Messi got the Ballon d’Or instead of (Robert) Lewandowski because he won the Copa America, so it is important.
“I believe that his ego will go down because they are there for one target and one objective.”
But ‘The Rock’ was a tough-tackling defender, so it’s France’s defensive options that truly excite him.
However, despite all the young talent, he is desperate to see one man in the team who has been there and done it all before.
“I am a big fan of the number of defenders we have from (Dayot) Upamencano, (Ibrahima) Konate, we have a lot. (Wesley) Fofana is injured – unfortunately for him.
“But we need Raphael Varane. We need Varane because he knows the international level, he’s a winner.
“He knows the intensity required to play in these kinds of matches. We need him to guide the others. Some of them might eventually be more talented but he needs to be there like the father who leads his children into battle.
“Upamencano and Konate are not ready yet, they have the talent but aren’t ready to understand international football.”
But a young Arsenal defender has blown everyone away in the Premier League and has been called up by Deschamps to potentially start in Varane’s place.
William Saliba has very few caps at international level, but his form couldn’t be ignored.
Despite this, though, Desailly doesn’t expect the Gunners man to be heavily involved in Qatar.
“Honestly, I don’t know much about him,” he added.
“But at international level, he’s not going to be first choice, so we are happy he is in the system and he can start to understand.”
However, Desailly still expects Saliba and the other young players to step up if required.
“We need everyone to be at their best at the same time.
“In 1998, we had (David) Trezeguet, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires. They were 19 years old.
“When it was the penalty shootout (against Italy in the quarter-finals). Trezeguet shot instead of an experienced player.
“Henry and Pires were key and brought that ‘enthousiasme‘, which means you are young, but don’t realise how important it is, meaning you can express yourself to be that difference when called upon.”
Desailly played with some top players in his time, and he knows France have several of the world’s biggest stars.
However, a former Manchester United transfer target and misfit is who ‘The Rock’ surprisingly backed to be a key player for Deschamps.
“If he plays with (Adrien) Rabiot on the left side of the midfield three. He is playing central for Juventus, but I see Rabiot back out to the left because his activity is just amazing.
“I would say Rabiot will be the surprise package. He will surprise everyone. It’s his moment to shine.
“He missed the last World Cup, so he’s not a World Cup winner.
“He is still young and will make the difference for France.”
This is not a name you would expect Desailly to mention, given the problems Rabiot has had off and on the field in the last few years.
But he believes in the Juventus man and he could be one to watch in Qatar.
Desailly, though, isn’t just interested in speaking about France and talk of Kalidou Koulibaly grabs his attention.
The Senegalese international arrived at Stamford Bridge with the reputation of being a top centre-back, but has struggled with the pace of the Premier League.
And as a former Chelsea defender himself, Desailly wants to see more from Koulibaly.
“For Chelsea, we are expecting much better. It’s not easy for him, he was a leader at Napoli and has to adjust to a three-at-the-back system.
“He has the ability to play in a back three, but he hasn’t experienced it at the highest level.
“But it’s just a matter of time because he’s a talented player.”
And what of England’s chances at the World Cup?
Well, it would be fair to say Desailly doesn’t sound too hopeful for the Three Lions.
“I feel like they don’t have individual players that can make the difference,” he said.
“(Gareth) Southgate needs to come up with an amazing tactical setup and put down some of the egos who were first choice before and make them second choice because of the new generation of players coming into the system.
“But it’s different for France. France have those individual players that can make the difference in every single game at any time, anywhere. England don’t have that.”
Desailly is clearly very excited about France’s chances of sealing back-to-back World Cup titles, and there are few people on this planet who know Deschamps better than he.
They are both born winners and you can see why Desailly backs his former captain after succeeding in Russia.
Les Bleus are one of the favourites in Qatar, so no one would be surprised if they deliver on the world stage again, and Desailly will be there roaring his country on all the way.
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