Didier Deschamps returns to the dugout at Stamford Bridge tonight with a reassuring sense of familiarity. He has sat here many evenings, patrolled this technical area before, been involved in important triumphs. The fact that many fans in the home sections of the crowd, on seeing the little Frenchman again, will hover uncomfortably between polite applause for a former player of Chelsea, and between recalling how he made an even stronger impression as a rival coach, will partly please Deschamps.
In the glittering career resume of Deschamps the footballer, the season he spent at Chelsea is a long way down the page. It sits beneath captaining his country to their only triumph at a World Cup; of being the first international captain to raise to the skies a World Cup and then a European championship trophy. It is low on his chronicle of club triumphs, which start with captaining the only French club, Marseille, whom he now manages, to the Champions League title, being the youngest player to wear the armband and lift that piece of silverware. He won the greatest prize in club football with Juventus, too, and, at the tail-end of his playing days reached a further Champions League final with Valencia. He won two French championnat medals and three Serie A scudetti, so the FA Cup victory with which he concluded his Chelsea career counts as relatively small change.
Deschamps tends to smile at himself when he talks of his 10-month episode as a Premier League footballer. "Let's just say I preferred Latin football," he told this reporter. He was nearly 31 when he joined Chelsea. Suffice to say, even the nostalgics among Chelsea fans regard Deschamps, well, not exactly as a defining footballer in Chelsea's history. As a manager, though, they know him enough to know he has talent for a surprise. He can seem a more guarded figure now than in his first days as a coach at Monaco. "Then I was a young manager just starting out," he reflects. "I've learnt about what you can and can't do on the training ground. In terms of man-management, I had to change." Players working with him detect a tougher streak. Marseille is a tough job, too, and tonight's assignment, away at the English champions, perhaps their toughest of the season.