Kylian Mbappe is the difference between Didier Deschamps and Gareth Southgate

Will Ford
Mbappe France
Kylian Mbappe missed France's 0-0 draw with the Netherlands.

France were no great shakes without Kylian Mbappe as they drew 0-0 with the Netherlands. Didier Deschamps would be Gareth Southgate without him.

Deschamps has never faced the external pressure Southgate has experienced and is experiencing as an international manager. While Deschamps led France to their first World Cup as captain in 1998 and the subsequent European Championship, and was thus a much-loved figure before becoming his country’s head coach, Southgate has been working to banish his own major tournament demons in parallel with England’s in his eight-year stint as manager.

Southgate’s been largely successful in doing so, restoring Three Lions pride at the 2018 World Cup as England made the semis, taking them a step further at Euro 2020, before losing to France in Qatar in 2022. But after an inauspicious win over Serbia and an even worse display in the draw with Denmark to start Euro 2024, the fans are nearing unanimity – Southgate has got to go.

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Deschamps couldn’t understand the negativity surrounding Southgate ahead of their quarter-final meeting in Qatar. “If I am understood correctly, not everyone appreciates him so much in his own country,” said Deschamps, predictably a fan of “a very good coach” who studied France’s run to World Cup glory in Russia in order to better aid England in their bid to win a major tournament.

“I very much like Gareth,” said Deschamps. “We’ve met on a number of occasions.We’ve talked on a number of things.” That much is clear in the style (or lack of one) of both France and England.

They’re managers who value solidity over all else, with pragmatism allowed by the genius of the individuals they each have to call upon. While there is evidence of defensive organisation there are huge Go Out There And Express Yourselves vibes to the attacking play, with no clear pattern to what the forwards are doing.

Ahead of the 2018 World Cup, Deschamps was seen by many to be holding France back given the sheer depth of their talent pool, mirroring accusations Southgate has faced throughout his time at the England helm that he’s preventing an extraordinarily gifted group of individuals from reaching their true potential.

France, like England, have four points from two games in Germany. And France, like England, have looked far less than the sum of their parts in those two games.

Antoine Griezmann could and perhaps should have scored a couple against the Netherlands and Adrien Rabiot surely would have done if he had shot instead of passing to the Atletico Madrid man seven yards out from goal. N’Golo Kante was ludicrously good again, and there were glimpses of individual class from most of Deshamps’ very talented players while his most talented remained maskless on the bench.

But they easily could have lost this game after Xavi Simons’ goal was ruled out for a questionable offside, and if it weren’t for past glory, both as a player and manager, Deschamps may well currently be being asked similar questions to those fielded by Southgate in recent days.

The great caveat for Deschamps is of course the absence of Kylian Mbappe, who would surely have come on had Simons’ goal stood, and will no doubt be tearing that mask off in celebration in the days and weeks to come in Germany. He’s too good not to have an impact, particularly in international football when individual excellence is often even more telling against opposition teams and defenders not used to playing with each other week in, week out.

And Deschamps needs him. Because unlike Spain, who produced a sublime performance to leave no doubt that they’ve been expertly coached by Luis de la Fuente, or Germany, who have been revitalised by the brilliant Julian Nagelsmann in the last six months, or even Austria, who have been turned into a dynamic pressing machine fueled by Red Bull under Ralf Rangnick, France – like England – are reliant on moments of magic from great footballers.

The difference between Southgate and Deschamps is that Deschamps has the greatest.