Soccer-World-Deschamps seeks to bring Midas touch back to France

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By Julien Pretot PARIS, April 29 (Reuters) - Less than two years after taking charge, coach Didier Deschamps has turned the France team, described as a bunch of overpaid mutineers four years ago, into a competitive outfit with a credible shot at a World Cup last-four spot. The 45-year-old former France captain, who led Les Bleus to their 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 titles, has won silverware at every club he has managed and did the same with three of the six clubs he played for. Although France seem to lag too far behind Spain, Germany or Brazil, Deschamps's obsessively competitive spirit will surely be an asset and the youngest captain to have lifted the Champions League trophy has the Midas touch as a manager. In 2007, he helped Juventus secure immediate promotion back to Serie A after the club had been relegated following a match-fixing scandal. Before going to Italy, Deschamps steered Monaco to victory in the League Cup and to the Champions League final. After the Serie B title with Juve, Marseille won their first French league title in 18 years under Deschamps. It followed a successful playing career during which he favoured pragmatism over swashbuckling midfield play which brought him honours at Marseille, Juventus and Chelsea. He came close with Valencia too, who were runners-up in the 2001 Champions League final in the twilight of his on-field career. FRENCH CEMENT The Basque-born Deschamps was France's cement during their best years and it is no coincidence that France's golden generation imploded after he retired following their Euro 2000 triumph. Deschamps, with Euro 2016 in France as his main target, is following in the footsteps of Aime Jacquet, the man who guided France to their World Cup triumph. Jacquet built his team around Zinedine Zidane, omitting the fiery Eric Cantona as Les Bleus reached the semi-finals of Euro 1996. Zidane was the creator, Deschamps the caretaker. He was always far more than "the water carrier" as Cantona derisively described him, implying that his main job was to pass the ball to more talented players like Cantona himself. Jacquet recalls the influence and responsibility he invested in Deschamps, who was included by Pele in the 125 world's best living players when FIFA celebrated their centenary in 2004. "We were talking all the time. He was my relay on the pitch," said Jacquet. Deschamps's authority is rarely contested and he has been slowly burying the ghosts of South Africa when the France squad rebelled against their manager, Raymond Domenech. He has quashed any form of rebellion in a team with little self-confidence. "My playing career has helped me deal with a lot of different situations," Deschamps told Reuters last year. "I can call on that wealth of experience at any time. But I have to adapt too because it's a different era." Samir Nasri, who has a reputation as a troublemaker, was left out of the squad for a friendly in Netherlands in March as Deschamps kept his promise when he was appointed that he would not tolerate off-field dramas. Deschamps has built his team around a rejuvenated Franck Ribery, after the Bayern Munch player went through hard times in 2010, and has kept faith with Karim Benzema despite the Real Madrid striker's 1,224-minute scoring drought for Les Bleus. (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Robert Woodward)