Didier Deschamps said he would wait before deciding whether to remain as coach of France in the wake of their World Cup final defeat, but the future prospects remain bright for a side brimming with young talent and led by Kylian Mbappe.
Deschamps was hoping to lead the 2018 world champions to back-to-back titles in Qatar, and they came agonisingly close, losing the final to Argentina on penalties following a thrilling 3-3 draw after extra time.
The shoot-out defeat prevented Deschamps -– who captained Les Bleus to glory in 1998 –- from becoming the first coach to win the World Cup twice since Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s.
The 54-year-old, in charge since 2012, is now out of contract but French Football Federation President Noel Le Graet had said Deschamps would be offered new terms if he reached the semi-finals.
Asked whether the result of the final would influence a decision on his future, Deschamps said: “Even with a different result I would not have given an answer today.”
“Obviously I am very sad. I will have a meeting with the president at the start of the new year and you will know after that,” he added.
Once the dust has settled on a draining campaign, France must turn their attentions to qualifying for Euro 2024, which begins in March against the Netherlands.
France will be expected to qualify without too many problems for the tournament in Germany, which is just 18 months away.
Their recent record is remarkable, with Deschamps having led them to the Euro 2016 final and then to glory in Russia four years ago. They also won the Nations League last year.
France’s campaign in Qatar had appeared cursed before it started with injuries depriving them of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante while Karim Benzema also withdrew just before the tournament began.
After watching his team recover from being 2-0 down, Deschamps claimed the loss in the final was even more ‘cruel.’
“We were not as good in the first 60 minutes against top-quality opponents who had a lot more energy, but we came back from nowhere and turned the game around from a very difficult situation. That leaves us with even more regrets,” said Deschamps after France failed in their bid to become the first team in 60 years to retain the trophy.
“We had a chance to win the World Cup in the last minute but it wasn’t to be,” Deschamps said.
“At 2-0 there would not have been the same regrets, you just say ‘bravo’ to them.
“I don’t want to take any merit away from Argentina but there were lots and lots of emotions and it was cruel at the end because we were so close.”
‘Huge pool of talent’
However, it has been a breakthrough campaign for some young stars, with Aurelien Tchouameni, Theo Hernandez, Jules Kounde and Ibrahima Konate all aged 25 or under.
Randal Kolo Muani had won just two caps before being brought in as a last-minute replacement for the injured Christopher Nkunku.
The Eintracht Frankfurt forward, who comes from the same Paris suburb as Mbappe and is just two weeks older, ended up having a big impact.
He scored against Morocco in the semi-finals and in the final was only denied an incredible late winner in extra time by a brilliant save from Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
“Some of the young players showed they are good enough for this level. There are others who were not here but will be involved in the future,” said Deschamps, who must have been thinking of the 25-year-old Nkunku, the best player in the Bundesliga last season with RB Leipzig.
“We always need experienced players to lead the younger ones but we have a huge pool of talent.”
Some of France’s distinguished veterans will now be considering their futures after what were record-breaking World Cup campaigns.
Olivier Giroud overtook Thierry Henry as his country’s all-time top scorer, while goalkeeper Hugo Lloris surpassed Lilian Thuram to become France’s record cap-holder.
Both, however, will be 36 by the end of this month.
But one player set to lead Les Bleus for years to come is the astonishing Mbappe.
He only turns 24 on Tuesday and yet has already won one World Cup and become the first player in 60 years to score in successive finals.
Given his age, his peak may still be yet to come as France eye the European Championship and, beyond that, the 2026 World Cup.
This World Cup has been “a passing of the baton between one generation coming to the final stage of their careers to a new generation led by Mbappe,” said Lloris.
And Raphael Varane, one of five French players who started on Sunday having also played in the 2018 final, said defeat in Doha would make the new generation stronger.
“It is a very young group. We have also built our successes on defeats and so this group of players will bounce back. There is enormous potential,” he said.