The aftermath. The championship was praised almost entirely, everybody was pleased and satisfied – high drama to the end, attractive football, fantastic Platini, great new discoveries, emergence of new powers. Rarely a championship was seen in completely positive light. The early exit of West Germany, strangely enough, was also seen as a plus: the ‘uglies’ were out, good for football. Plus, the German problems did not come as a surprise- they were well known already. And apart from the Germans, all other teams were just fine: handicapped Belgium performed well under the circumstances; Romania showed potential, very likely to develop in near future; Yugoslavia was not a big disappointment, because it was traditionally moody team – nothing out of norm, then; Portugal recovered at last and in great style – it was, like Romania, a team expected to get stronger soon and one to watch carefully; Spain never played that before, which was incredible change – instead of stagnated physical battle, they played creative and entertaining football; Denmark was simply adorable – not only because traditional weakling was now equal to the big powers, but it was the team most closely mirroring the great and unforgettable Ajax. France was divine… And what players! Platini was the king, but a whole bunch were freshly discovered – Chalana, Elkjaer-Larsen, Laudrup, Scifo, Rednic, Maceda, Voller, to name but a few. The praise, however, went together with the caveat, that nothing really new was seen at this championship in terms of tactics. No wonder the highest praise was comparisement to Ajax – that is, to decade old original total football. And truly that was almost all: return to entertaining attacking football , shaped by Ajax. The only other thing was slight modifications: most teams played 4-4-2 instead of early 1970s 4-3-3 and France – that was debated quite a lot – introduced 3-5-2. About that – a bit later.
The ideal team of the finals came out as this:
Schumacher (West Germany)
Joao Pinto (Portugal) K-H Forster (West Germany) M. Olsen (Denmark) Brehme (West Germany)
Arnesen (Denmark) Tigana (France) Platini (France) Giresse (France)
Chalana (Portugal) Voller (West Germany)
As you like it… could be 4-4-2, could be 4-5-1. Could be with Platini as a striker and Chalana as a midfielder… but the chosen best show one thing loud and clear: it was a championship of the midfielders; the whole football of the day was based on midfield strategy – everything happened there, winning or losing. The big stars, the key players were midfielders – so many, that strikers were almost reduced to nothing just to open more space for one more wonderful midfielder. Well, Brehme played midfield too, so it could be 3-6-1… and still there were impressive players out. No wonder Hidalgo’s innovation – playing 3-5-2 – was talked about, considered, proclaimed visionary and the football of the future. The trouble was, Hidalgo used the innovation only twice and it was more due to circumstances than a true daring. It was logical step, though: since almost everybody used only 2 strikers and the central battle was in midfield, there was little need for 4 defenders – better saturate the midfield and overcome the opposition with extra player there. Logical, but risky as well – what if the enemy has a player like Patini or Chalana, acting often as a striker? No way stopping him, plus the regular strikers, with 3 defenders – it was not an easy transition to 3-5-2. And if the need of libero is added – for the libero was still considered key figure of modern game – three defenders was not something to embrace. It was unusual concept requiring specific type of players: to have abundance of versatile central defenders, confident at the sides, quick to move in front of the goalkeeper, able to pass creatively and also able to run into attack both in the middle and at the wings. France was lucky to have such players – Bossis, Battiston, Le Roux, and Domergue, two of whom used to play as full backs in the past (although not Bossis, but Battiston was moved to the right to cover for Amoros). Most teams did not have so many flexible central defenders, though. France also had little use for a libero – Platini, Giresse, and Tigana organized the game – but West Germany depended on Stielike and Denmark on Morten Olsen and it was unthinkable changing their roles. Three defenders meant playing in line – still considered old fashioned and ineffective in modern football: prime example was England. Unless a team used offside trap as a prime defensive weapon, a line was extremely dangerous – and more or less only Belgium depended consistently on offside traps. Anyway, the only tactical innovation at this championship was Hidalgo’s 3-5-2 – a profitable potential to be developed and polished eventually in the future.
The big talk was about France, naturally – the European champions deserved and got very close look. The team was the masterpiece of Michel Hidalgo, of course, who ended his long spell at the head of the national team as a winner. He was already a French legend and rightly so. In less then 10 years he transformed France from mellow and pleasant losers to one of the strongest and certainly most entertaining teams in the world. A lot is written about Hidalgo, so let’s approach him somewhat differently. Continuity. Hidalgo is credited with the raise of France, thus the beginning is placed in 1976, when he was appointed head coach of the national team. He stepped down right after winning the European championship in 1984, leaving his position to Henri Michel, who captained the national team for years under Hidalgo and became his assistant after retirement. That was solid continuity, for the whole story started not in 1976, but earlier. One may say everything started with appointing Stefan Kovacs to coach France in 1973.
That was France in 1973. Kovacs not only introduced new players, but Hidalgo was his assistant. A lot of the players selected by Kovacs were used by Hidalgo for years. The change really started with the Romanian and was continued by Hidalgo. And Michel was the key player during the building period. In fact, at least 3 players introduced by Kovacs became European champions in 1984 – along with Lacombe, pictured here, Giresse and Rocheteau. So, Kovacs started everything, Hidalgo solidified, polished, and tuned the team, bringing it to the top and left it in excellent shape to the person, who has been essential part of the whole process from start – Henri Michel. Of course, there was good luck too – the period coexisted with the great period of St. Etienne and the emergence of Michel Platini – but perhaps something else was more important: Kovacs introduced total football and Hidalgo continued in the same pattern. It did not work with Kovacs, it was just very early stage in which changing attitudes and finding players able and willing to play new kind of football was of prime importance and there were no great results, but Hidalgo not only learned from Kovacs, but inherited good base to step on. By 1982 France was one of the top teams in the world and 1984 was the the crowning moment – and in 1984 it was very different team from the one started by Kovacs in 1973: it was not just a matter of class , confidence, and fine tuning – many problems were solved during this period, one of them in the last moment really, for no matter how good a coach could be, it boils down to available material, the players. And coming to that, there were unsolvable problems too. So, let take a look at the champions.
Joel Bats (Auxerre, 27 years old) – with him, France was finally able to solve persistent and irritating problem – goalkeeping. What France traditionally had were rather shaky keepers. Baratelli and Bretrand-Demand replaced Carnus, and they were only younger, not better than him, so the search continued all the time, without finding satisfying solution. Ettori played at the 1982 World Cup and he was no great either – not even in the team at the1984 finals, when Bergeroo and Rust were selected, both tried before and found wanting. Bats was different and finally France had strong keeper – may be not among the greatest keepers in the world, but very likely the best goalkeeper France ever had. The world saw Bats for the first time in 1984, but it was not Hidalgo’s fault, nor a matter of form – Bats surely was to be in the 1982 team, if he was not in hospital fighting cancer. It was amazing story of courage and recovery, so came back to field, played solidly, and helped winning the championship.
The defense came in two versions at the finals – it was 4 men and 3 men. Since 3-5-2 scheme, introduced by Hidalgo, was most talked about as a tactical innovation, let start with it. It was used in only 2 games and it was largely played by necessity – forced by the expulsion of Amoros in the first match of the finals, followed by 3-game ban.
Patrick Battiston (Bordeaux, 27) on the right. Kind of. Of course, Battiston was well known and his position was central-defender. Flexible enough to cover solidly position he never played before and another amazing recovery story – he was the victim of vicious attack by Schumacher at the 1982 World Cup semi-final. Spent months in hospital in grave danger – he was not expected to play again. Yet, he recovered so well, he was back in the national team. Tall, strong, skillful, tough modern defender, able to get and keep regular position against numerous competition made of similar kind of players (through the years – Tresor, Bossis, Le Roux)
Maxime Bossis (Nantes, 28) in the middle. A solid regular for years, experienced, dependable, and clean central defender – he was never booked even with yellow card during his career, stretching into more than 700 official games. Bossis was also able to play as a left full-back and if one wonders why a tall player like Battiston was moved to the right, the answer is quite simple – Bossis was equally tall. Hе missed the penalty in the 1982 semi-final and West Germany won, so winning the Euro was more than a sweet revenge.
Jean-Francois Domergue (Toulouse, 26) – a surprise choice, when he appeared at the left of the French defense. He was last minute addition to the national team and had a single appearance – in the friendly with West Germany just before the finals. Considered a deep reserve frankly, not expected to play even a minute – for he was also central-defender and similar to Battiston and Bossis. But he started his career as a left full-back, than moved to the center, only to discover that changing position meant sitting on the bench… Tresor occupied this position in Bordeaux. Domergue realized he had no chance and moved to Toulouse – and that was the road to the national team. He played so well at the finals, that when Amoros was finally free to play, Domergue was not taken out.
This line was both improvised and not – of course, it was risky to try three similar players together, but there were only limited options after the expulsion of Amoros. There was risk, but there was good argument for risking too: similar, but versatile central-defenders were capable of covering each other. It was more a question of chemistry and the chemistry was good. Around those three another two were used:
Yvon Le Roux (Monaco, 24) – one more similar to the already mentioned central-defenders, used in his usual position. It was fine, when Hidalgo used 4 men – nothing really changed: similar players, able to cover each other. It was physical, modern, defense line, but not dirty.
Manuel Amoros (Monaco, 22) – right full back, introduced at the 1982 World Cup and already absolute regular. He most sure regular defender – the players in the other positions were so similar and competitive, nobody could be really sure he would play. Amoros was way above any competition at the right flank and had very consistent form as well. Amoros was also able to play at the left side of the field, just as well for Hidalgo. But what a turn of fate: the most sure regular was out. Sure, he acted stupidly in the first game, nobody to blame, but himself. Hidalgo certainly did not lift out his trust in him – and faced a problem: Amoros suspension ended before the final. Clearly, Hidalgo wanted to field him, but meantime not only the improvised defense worked fine, but Domergue was excellent and it was fair to put him on the bench. So, Hidalgo chose to be loyal to both Domergue and Amoros – Amoros was a reserve, but came out in the second half, replacing Battiston. After the final it was up to the new coach, Henri Michel, what to do with the defense, but there was no doubt Amoros will be in the team – and he was.
So… the innovation worked well enough: 3 or 4 similar, yet, flexible central defenders, covering each other, if the occasion demanded it. Traditional line also worked, but to a point – no problem was the right side (Amoros), but on the left there was no so formidable full back. In fact, there was no left full-back at all in the 1984 selection – Thierry Tusseau (Bordeaux, 26) was actually right full-back, capable to play central defender too, and practically Amoros’ back-up. The left side was to be improvised from start – may be Bossis, may be Amoros, finally Domergue. A weak point in the team and difficult to solve – there was no truly strong classic left full-back in France.
Midfield was the real strength of France, unquestionably recognized by the whole world. What a wealth of talent! If there was problem, it was who to leave out… It was the same line used at the 1982 World Cup. Perfect combination of experienced players, knowing each other completely. Skilful, imaginative, fit, confident, at their prime both as individuals and as a group. Almost the same line as in 1982, when the line was finely tuned. Almost the same, for no matter what, places were limited and France had way too many fine midfielders. Thanks to Amoros’ expulsion, one more place was opened for awhile – depending of tactical scheme, France used 4 or 5 men midfield line. Four was predominant , though, for Platini was also moved to attack on occasion. With all tactical varieties, the ‘canonical’ line was:
Luis Fernandez (Paris SG,24) – the defensive midfielder emerged at the 1982 World Cup and was key part of French midfield ever since. If in some positions previous players were better than current ones – Janvion was better than Amoros, Tresor was better than Battiston and Bossis – here the case was opposite: Batheney was somewhat softer and defensively weaker compared to Fernandez. Fernandez was perfect – physical enough to intimidate opposition German style, competent as central defender – there was security with him: he was able to kill opposite attacks well before they developed dangerously; he was covering well as a defender, so Battiston or Bossis were free to roam into attack. Good control of ball, good passer, fearless, reliable – the backbone of midfield, which with him back, was able to display its full attacking potential. There was fear that a slight mistake could endanger the French defense – Fernandez was there! Always there.
Jean Tigana (Bordeaux, 28) – already a well known star, no need to introduce him in length. Light, mobile, incredibly creative and also disciplined attacking midfielder. A playmaker really, but playing together with Giresse and Platini required restrain – and that was the great strength and luck of the French national team: the element of surprise. You never knew who would organize an attack, players took the role of playmaker depending on who posses the ball at the moment. This provided for lightning speed, no time wasted, no fixed roles – the opposition constantly faced surprises, unable to guess where the next danger would be coming. Tigana was tireless runner and combined with similarly playing Giresse dominating the middle of the field was quite easy – the duo was the real motor of France.
Alain Giresse (Bordeaux, 31). Also well known. Similar to Tigana, but they played together in Bordeaux, so were well adjusted to each other. Playmaking is domineering and possessive role, which often creates problems if having two of the kind in the team – Tigana and Giresse, however, shared, there was no battle of egos between them and just as well, for France had Platini too – it was enough only one player to take the ego trip and the whole thing would collapse. Giresse was getting a bit old – he was late bloomer, but at 31 his days were numbered inevitably. No worries, France was blessed with plenty of midfield talent. The aging of Giresse was arguably the easiest problem for solving – his double was already a regular.
Well, hardly a need even to mention the name. Deliberately chosen picture from the beginning of his career – the bright young talent, the big hope for the future, was already a superstar. Already recognized as one of the best players ever in the world. 28-years old, playing for Juventus (Italy), Platini was arguably at his peak and the 1984 European finals were unquestionably his masterpiece. He was the top scorer of the tournament with 9 goals, played brilliant football, lead the team to victory. Unstoppable and highly entertaining. Lucky to have Platini in the team, but Platini was also lucky to have teammates of such class – with them, Hidalog was absolutely free to change Platini’s position, depending on opposition. Platini was also confident to change roles on his own decision during the game, for he ws certain that his teammates would adjust immediately. It is easy to say that France was Platini – and then it is no so easy: two years earlier practically the same squad lost the World Cup semi-final. Unlucky, yes, but also not tough enough. Now the team was tough too and Platini soared even higher.
A dream of a midfield – and there was more. Bernard Genghini (Monaco, 26) – hard to call him a reserve, but there was no space for him. Yet, there was no way to bench him permanently – he was too good, already famous. Hidalgo played him as much as he could – the new 3-5-2 scheme looked like solution, but most likely he was going to take Giresse’s place in the future. Not big deal – he played constantly with Giresse and Tigana in both Bordeaux and the national team, had plenty of experience, not a newcomer at all. Here was also Jean-Marc Ferreri (Auxerre, 21) – France had so many options in midfield, that there was not trouble at all with lost form, or injury, or a match not going well. No trouble for the future either. The French midfield fully epitomized modern football as understood at this point of time: mobile, creative line winning the battle in the middle of pitch and controlling the game from there. Moving back and forth, adding solidity to defense, adding striking force, saturating the field , making it small and uncomfortable for the opposition and opening and widening it, when going into attack. Nothing like Greman brutal force rolling over by sheer physicality – it was elegant and pleasing midfield, keen on attacking.
The attack, however, was old and apparently unsolvable problem. Perhaps one of the reasons Hidalgo used only 2 strikers. None was great, so he rotated them constantly in the hope of finding some combination which worked – none did. France played every match with different combination of strikers, so the ‘regulars’ would be mentioned not because they were a staple, but because the players appeared in most games. May be must be mentioned that two of oldest members of the team, introduced by Stefan Kovacs, before Hidalgo’s era, were strikers – Lacombe and Rocheteau. Such longivity, yet, neither had impressive number of games for France – Lacombe had 34 before the finals, Rocheteau – 37. It was rather illuminating the problem: good strikers, but somehow never delivering. In and out, in and out.
Bernard Lacombe (Bordeaux, 31) – centre-forward, played 4 games, was substituted in three of them, scored no goals. That was the thing – no goals. Strikers must score, the French one did not. It was also difficult to use typical centre-forward in line of 2 strikers – the type needs feeding from the wings, and having only one winger limits the options for a centre-forward and makes the whole attack predictable. Also Lacombe was not physical enough, especially in a time of big burly defenders. More or less, the best use of Lacombe was actually as a screen for coming from midfield Platini, keeping defenders occupied with him, so Platini could surprise and have space to score.
Didier Six (Mulhouse, 29) – left winger and long time national team player, started 3 games, was replaced in one, scored no goals. Somewhat better solution than most of his colleagues, but also a rare scorer. With midfield abilities as well and very likely the best French left winger at the time – what worked against him apart from goals was the 2-men attacking line: France had more than enough midfielders, so there was little need for his help there, but as a striker, he was able to play only on the left side – 2-men attack requires players changing wings to be effective.
Bruno Bellone (Monaco, 22) – a bit more like midfielder than typical winger, also playing on the left side. Played in 3 games, but only in two was a starter – in the third one he came out as substitute, replacing Six. Yes, the double of Six, a younger version of him, so similar problems, including that Bellone was less of a winger than Six, playing further back. However, he was the only striker to score a goal – the second goal in the final in the last minute. Yes, he cemented the French win, but in the same time it was not game-turning or decisive goal.
Dominique Rocheteau (Paris SG, 29) – long time national team player, dazzlingly skilful winger, famous from the days of the great St. Etienne team in mid-70s. Equally capable of playing right or left winger, constantly changing position. On the surface, the ideal player for 2-men line… but perhaps Rocheteau was the prime example of the problems of French strikers: it was noticed years ago, when he was at his best, that he somehow always misses the right moment to shoot and score – a fraction of a second late, one more step instead of shooting, a tiny hesitation… and the opportunity is gone. By now he was getting old and losing speed too – very likely he would have been out of the team, if there was something better. But there was not, so he was in mostly for experience. Played twice – a starter once, but replaced later; and coming as a substitute in his second appearance. No goals. Of course…
Daniel Bravo (Monaco, 21) – not even fully a striker, at least according to the understanding of the time. Today probably would be called ‘light striker’. Back then he was something between attacking midfielder and centre-forward. Listed officially as midfielder, but really an attacker. Hope for the future mostly, but rather awkward option, difficult to fit in the team – with midfielders France was having, Bravo had to play more ahead than he liked. But he was similar to Lacombe and thus unable to provide cover for Platini. Scoring was not his forte either. He appeared once, substituting Ferreri, when it looked certain that France won against Yugoslavia, right after Platini made it 3-1. With Bravo playing, the result became 3-2… not to blame him, but strikers do not come on the pitch to reduce advantage.
And that was the final verdict: French strikers scored only one goal. They had to be constantly rotated and substituted. None satisfied – like ever before. It was objective problem, Hidalgo had no way to find solution, for those were the players at hand. Mind, the great leading scorers in the French championship roughly from 1970 to 1985, if not even later, were foreigners. Nothing to do about it and the future was not promising either. The weakness of the great French national team was the attackers. It was compensated by the fantastic midfield so far, but Platini, Giresse, Tigana, Genghini were not going to last forever. Anyway, no team is perfect – the great Ajax practically had no goalkeeper, for instance. Even with suspect attack France played wonderful and winning football. That was the important thing – and from this perspective the future was bright:
The French Junior Team won the European championship in 1983. There was another big victory in 1984 as well. French football was in a very healthy state, it was going to stay strong, winning the European Championship was not occasional fit, one-time-wonder. Great Hidalgo stepped down and Henri Michel took the reigns.