'Water carrier' Deschamps is on the up at reborn Marseille
For one of world football's most garlanded figures, Didier Deschamps merits more than to be forever saddled with the dismissive moniker which Eric Cantona bestowed on him. After all, hasn't the old "water carrier" dealt almost exclusively in lugging around magnums of champagne ever since?
So, as Olympique Marseille's coach sits at their training ground looking forward to another European joust with Manchester United, I am intrigued to know whether Cantona's comments before a tie between United and Juventus had stuck in his craw for these 15 years.
Legend, after all, has it that he was enraged to read the eve-of-match rant in a French newspaper from his old Les Bleus team-mate that "Deschamps will never be anything more than a porteur d'eau. You can find players like him on every street corner. He likes to act like a monk and a moralist but he'll end up wallowing in every kind of vice".
"Well, I was the water carrier," shrugs Deschamps. "I never pretended to be a Messi or a Zidane. I wasn't a great player but I played in great teams. And great teams are not just created by the architect but also by bricklayers and hod carriers.
"A water carrier? The tag never annoyed or affected me; it was just water off a duck's back. It's always too easy to criticise people. I really don't care what people say about me. I always gave my answer on the pitch.
"I never saw Eric afterwards to talk about it because our paths never crossed. But, from knowing him quite well for our two years in Marseille, I knew why he said that about me; it's because he believed I didn't want him in the French squad and that it was largely down to me that he did not play in the 1998 World Cup." Not true, he is adamant.
"Well, as a player I definitely was a born winner," he says. "But as a coach, I'm still looking for the formula. It will be very difficult to win as many trophies as I did in my playing days but as we say here, impossible n'est pas Francais -- impossible isn't a French word!"
So far, he shrugs that he has done "quite well" in his seven-year management career. He is too modest; the idea that impossible n'est pas Deschamps has quickly taken hold after his considerable achievements of taking Monaco to the Champions League final, dragging scandal-hit Juventus back to Serie A credibility and now turning his old club Marseille into champions again after a 17-year eternity without the trophy.
That is why, at 42, Liverpool came in for him in the summer to replace Rafael Benitez. "It was very flattering to be approached by a club historique," he recalls. "And very difficult to turn down. But I felt I couldn't go against my word to the Marseille president, and to players I'd brought in, when it all occurred two days before pre-season training started."
"I'm rigorous, demanding, thorough, but I'm not a dictator. The important thing in my eyes is not about being extra nice or extra cold but just to be credible as a manager, as I was as a player. Football's my passion -- I've watched every minute of every United game since Christmas -- but I'm not obsessed," he insists when I inquire about the legend that he stays up until 3am studying videos of the opposition.
"Sorry, but at 3am I'm sleeping!" he says, breaking into perfect English for the first time. "For me, Ferguson is the benchmark for all coaches. I've been lucky enough to have spent some time with him -- things are quite easy with him, he speaks a bit of French and loves good French wine -- and I've learned a lot from him."
But he would covet Ferguson's luxury of having "time to build something". For the moment, that club is Marseille. The Basque has built a team in his image: physical, well organised, solid and capable of giving United a scare.
Yet it is hard to believe that the old port's hero will not, sooner rather than later, be moving on to one of Europe's elite. Thinking back about the Anfield chance, he shrugs: "I hope another opportunity like that will come."
And the France manager's job? "Maybe one day, but I'm not obsessed by the idea. Maybe it would be the last step in my career." And what a step. Of course, there is a lot of water to be carried under the bridge before then. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)