Making of a champion: How France built a team of World Cup winners
Matthias Hangst / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Many of the players who starred in France's latest World Cup triumph emerged from the suburbs of Paris, the ones that extend beyond the highway that rings, and essentially divides, the capital's spectacular interior and the poorer neighbourhoods. The New York Times called them the "Boys from the Banlieues." Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, N'Golo Kante, and Steven Nzonzi - all of whom played a major role in Sunday's finale - took their first steps on the streets and dirt pitches of greater Paris.

It is one of the many places where France's journey of rejuvenation began, where players otherwise hindered by economic and social strife have an escape. But it took much more than innate talent for those players and the rest of the French team to achieve World Cup glory. It required the tens of thousands of coaches who kept the pipeline going from greater Paris to Clairefontaine and, finally, to Russia. It required the bravery of a manager who continued to preach the values of teamwork and the advantages of a solid defence when it would have been easier, and more popular, to attack. And it required all 23 players in the squad to buy in and believe in those concepts.

Without that togetherness, France wouldn't have won the 2018 World Cup. Manager Didier Deschamps worked on that collective mentality for years, only selecting players who fit into the dynamic. It's why Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Adrien Rabiot, whose relationship with the national team and trust with the coaching staff had deteriorated. There would be no risk of mutiny like 2010 or a break in the dialogue. Deschamps encouraged his players to talk, to have fun, and work for each other.

"The most important choices are made when we choose the 23 players," he said. "You need to choose the men so you can build up a group that can go as far as possible. You need to find balance, on the pitch of course, but also a human balance because it is so fragile."

Deschamps raved about the team's cumulative well-being, how they did "everything" together on and off the pitch. Every outfield player but Adil Rami had a chance to play, and even then, Rami added necessary levity, offering a twirl of his moustache for good luck.

To win a second World Cup, France needed so many different contributions. Nothing would have been possible without Mbappe's pace, Pogba's creativity, or Kante's tirelessness. The same could be said for Olivier Giroud's selflessness, Raphael Varane's crucial timing, and Benjamin Pavard's unexpected versatility. To have success, Deschamps needed a cast with this kind of athletic diversity.

The 49-year-old could have let his players express their qualities in their own way. It could have worked, or it could have failed miserably. What he recognised, however, is that tournaments are won not necessarily by the most entertaining sides but the most efficient ones. So he put together a system that promoted his players' strengths and camouflaged their weaknesses. He wouldn't let this young team - with more than half making their World Cup debuts - give in to the temptation of doing too much.

Deschamps built this team in the image of himself, a former defensive midfielder who knew his limitations. He gave his players singular tasks, avoiding the headache of a more intricate style of play that, in previous matches, appeared to handicap his players. France tended to labour in possession as defences closed the lanes, so Deschamps prioritised more fundamental football, asking his players to clear the lines, move the ball forward, and take their chances.

His first big decision was to remove Ousmane Dembele. A starter in France's World Cup opener against Australia, the 21-year-old made way for Giroud, whose hold-up play and defensive application restored equilibrium. He made an impact even without registering a single shot on target, putting enough pressure on defenders to force them into difficult decisions.

The counter-attack also emerged as a useful weapon, giving Mbappe the chance to use his speed, Pogba the opportunity to release his patented long balls, and Antoine Griezmann the incentive to be the all-around workhorse he is. The team looked a lot like Griezmann's Atletico Madrid, with unyielding commitment from every player.

It didn't matter that France finished 18th in terms of possession at the World Cup. Les Bleus blitzed at the right moments, trailed for just nine minutes and 12 seconds, and, despite keeping just 34 percent possession against Croatia, registered more shots on target in the final.

"The teams that had the highest level of possession, the highest level of control, were all punished by fast forwards," Deschamps added. "That is football. If you know how to defend well, you are guaranteed to have two or three opportunities on the counter-attack or on a set piece. I don't know if it's a beautiful World Cup - there were goals and crazy scenarios - but this World Cup was very, very difficult athletically."

That game plan was plain to see. France scored three goals in 11 minutes against Argentina, off set pieces against Uruguay and Belgium, and twice in six second-half minutes against Croatia. Playing more vertically eliminated the need to break down defensive lines. A swift kick to Mbappe was enough to slice through midfield.

Deschamps coached with the same discipline that the likes of Pogba and Mbappe grew up with. Their attacking instincts were honed and indulgent tendencies refined by excellent coaches in both the greater area of Paris and at Clairefontaine. Mbappe stayed at the training centre as long as possible, his parents denying the chance to move abroad and join the likes of Real Madrid. That grounding was essential for one of France's standouts.

Pogba's own transformation into a more responsible midfielder started in his teenage years, when a coach at his local club told him to stop dribbling so much. It wasn't meant to suppress creativity, but to use it at the right moments.

After a hefty education, the players eventually made big moves abroad and learned different styles of play. Pogba understood the value of tactics at Juventus, while Mbappe learned the importance of movement at AS Monaco.

"Players like Kylian always want to be in the heart of the action," Jean-Claude Lafargue, director at Clairefontaine, told the Guardian last August. "At academy level, he only wanted to play on the wing so as to initiate attack with the ball in his feet. When he turned professional he gradually understood the importance of off-the-ball runs and spatial awareness."

The same transformation happened to Kante, who operated as a crucial ball-winner in Leicester City's Premier League-winning campaign, and Nzonzi, who went to Spain to become a fantastic holding midfielder in his own right. Giroud turned into a more complete centre-forward under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, and Matuidi became a utility man for both club and country.

Years of preparation came together under Deschamps, borrowing from previous lessons and failures. Even the loss to Portugal in the Euro 2016 final had a purpose, highlighting the importance of chance conversion and the need for Kante, who was left on the bench for the showpiece event. France scored more with less in Russia, and Kante, with his whirlwind presence and convenient interceptions, struck a fantastic two-way partnership with Pogba.

By the end of it all, there was a victory for everyone to share.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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Making of a champion: How France built a team of World Cup winners
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