Every great team is composed of different characters. There may be a few stars in the team, but there also those that keep their feet grounded and work for the team tirelessly and constantly. These individuals are also the reason why the marquee stars of the side are capable of showing their best qualities because they don’t need to sacrifice any part of their game, there are others who will do the necessary. And for Michel Hidalgo’s French national team in the early 1980s, that selfless individual was none other than Jean Tigana.
The 1960s and ‘70s was a period of decline for the French national side. The performances on the pitch were not helping the team, while the situation off the pitch wasn’t doing the country any favours either. The French Football Federation changed manager after manager in the hope of inducing some change in the decline of the team, however, each of the managers that were appointed were sacked after failures to qualify for major tournaments at the time. At long last, Michel Hidalgo stepped in, and with that appointment, France’s fortunes changed.
Today, the French national team consists of several players who have African heritage, however, in the early days under Hidalgo and even before him, there weren’t that many players who came from the French-governed colonies and countries. The most recognizable name at the time was Marius Trésor, who is regarded as one of France’s finest players of all time. He came from the Guadeloupe, which was, at the time, a French-controlled archipelago in the Caribbean Islands.
Tigana’s influence on French football can be observed in today’s modern box-to-box midfielders like N’Golo Kanté, Blaise Matuidi, Tanguy Ndombele. Much like Tigana’s style of play, these players venture forward when necessary and contribute to offensive football, however, their main purpose is to maintain the balance of play in the middle of the park and ensure that defensive solidity is maintained. This assurance in midfield allows the more creative players to express themselves freely without having to worry about tracking back or marking opposition attackers.
Tigana’s career in football started a little bit later than he might have liked. The Mali-born Frenchman started his career at Toulon and moved to Lyon, where he made more than a century of appearances for the club before making the move that defined his career, going to Bordeaux.
At Bordeaux, Tigana experienced his best years in club football and followed it up with fantastic performances for France as well.
Considered by several Bordeaux fans as a legend, Tigana’s move to Bordeaux was a reunion with the coach that first discovered him from Toulon at Lyon, Aimé Jacquet. Jacquet would later go on to manage the French national team and lead them to glory at the 1998 World Cup on home soil in France. However, even early on in his career, Jacquet managed to collect several accolades with his Bordeaux side. It was no surprise that a player like Tigana would flourish under a manager like Jacquet, because of the style of play that the then Bordeaux boss deployed.
Jacquet wasn’t the flashiest of managers and was quite methodical about the way he wanted his teams to play football. His primary focus was defensive solidity and there can be several similarities drawn between his system and that of the Serie A sides at the time. Jacquet’s arrival at the club was also because there was a wind of change passing by. Under President Claude Bez, the club was able to acquire several promising French internationals, along with Jacquet, who was a well-respected manager in the French football community at the time.
Tigana was a player for every manager. His attitude was top class and his work ethic was of the highest order. Although he was deployed usually as a holding midfielder, Tigana’s tireless work-rate in midfield was also complemented by the occasional stride forward to support his attackers in the final third.
This tendency to dominate the middle of the park defensively made him popular in France in the early ‘80s and also led to his call-up to the French national team under Hidalgo. Tigana’s loyalty to Bordeaux was unflinching and the combative midfielder earned a great reputation with the Girondins fans.
Although Tigana wasn’t tall or muscular, like many modern box-to-box midfielders, he was a tireless worker and used to impose himself by pressing the opposition’s attackers into giving up the ball. Slowly and gradually, the man built his reputation and became one of Europe’s finest box-to-box midfielders.
Speaking in an interview with The Coaches’ Voice, Tigana revealed that he had the opportunity to join Barcelona in 1982, who also boasted other non-Spanish talents such as Bernd Schuster and a certain Argentine superstar by the name of Diego Maradona. Further, Tigana also rejected a move to Tottenham Hotspur. Italian champions Juventus also tried to get the Frenchman’s signature, his compatriot Michel Platini was already at the club and was making headlines as the star player in Turin.
Tigana rejected all these offers, because of his sheer loyalty to Bordeaux’s cause. His loyalty to the club was also because of how much the players at the club respected the president Bez’s words. Tigana and others like him at the time rejected offers from other clubs, simply because the president demanded loyalty from them during testing times and they duly delivered.
Such an attitude towards clubs is very rarely found in today’s times, however, back then, some footballers like Tigana still understood the true value of being a hundred percent loyal to the club that is giving you a livelihood, and also the club whose fans adore you and look up to you for inspiration and leadership in difficult times.
The Frenchman’s character as a person very much reflected in his style of play as well. He was disciplined, hard-working and always played for the team, instead of himself. This attitude and his star-studded performance for Jacquet’s Bordeaux side led to the call-up to the national team. Being the kind of player that he was, he was never fazed by interest from such giants of the game, it is perhaps a testament to his character that he stayed at Bordeaux for almost a decade and made more than 250 appearances for Les Girondins.
The highlight of Tigana’s career, however, would have to be his key contributions to the success of France at the European Championships in 1984. Under Hidalgo, France deployed a spectacular midfield four, consisting of the star man Michel Platini, alongside two other talented midfielders in the forms of Luis Fernández and Alain Giresse. Tigana was drafted in as part of this group and together they came to be known as le Carré Magique (the Magic Square).
Each of the players knew their roles perfectly and performed them to the best of their abilities as instructed by Hidalgo. The Magic Square’s first test was the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Hidalgo was blessed with talent across the pitch, with Trésor bossing the defence at the back and the Magic Square dominating games in the middle of the park, it seemed like France’s recipe for success was a hit. However, it wasn’t going to be so straightforward for Les Bleus.
France reached the semi-finals that year, meeting West Germany in the round and losing out to them on penalties, in a highly controversial fixture, which is still regarded as one of the greatest fixtures of the glorious World Cup.
Les Bleus’ best moments, however, were on their way, and at Euro ‘84, they realized their world-class potential. The Magic Square was already a world-renowned threat and opposition defenses struggled to figure out their way past the perfect combination of four midfielders, whose collective threat was more dangerous than France’s forward line and there’s a reason why.
Platini, the most advanced of the four, was playing in the number 10 role and was given creative license to dictate the attacking threat of the team. While he also created several chances for his team-mates, Platini’s major strength was his ability to bring goals while attacking the box, which enabled him to score an amazing tally of nine goals at the Euros. It was in fact, the selfless nature of France’s forward line that allowed the French captain to flourish in the way that he did.
While Giresse was the classy midfielder who was a composed figure on the ball and knew how to make his way past a defence, Fernández was the deepest of the four and played the role of the deep playmaker, however, he did not play a major role in the defensive aspects of Hidalgo’s side, that was Tigana’s work.
Tigana’s immaculate work-rate and his tireless stamina allowed him to be the perfect box-to-box midfielder for France to shine. Opposition attackers could not get away from him because while he wasn’t physically intimidating, he certainly made his presence felt by breathing down their necks while off the ball and by pressing the opponent whenever France didn’t have possession, he preached the same mentality to his players after becoming a full-time manager as well.
Perhaps one of Tigana’s and France’s most memorable matches was the semi-final clash against Portugal. The match is now regarded by many as one of the greatest games of international football, however, it was a mental test for the players as much as anything and France were able to pull through in the end.
The Magic Square found themselves constantly creating chances and being thwarted by the Portuguese ‘keeper, before a sweetly struck free-kick from Jean-François Domergue, handed France a 1-0 lead. And just as it seemed like France might see the game through, Portugal equalized through Rui Jordão. Both players would score once again in extra time, however, the decisive goal was yet to come and when it did, France were on cloud nine.
Tigana found himself to be the key this time. Unlike the rest of the 21 on the pitch, his stamina was still up and running and he was up for the fight until the very last whistle of the referee. Deep into extra-time, the industrious French midfielder found himself with acres of space in between Portugal’s midfield and defense.
He surged forward with Platini running into space and even though his initial pass to find the France number 10 failed, he continued his foray into the Portugal penalty area and dragged the Portuguese defense along with him. This enabled Platini to find space on the penalty spot, receive the cutback from Tigana and smash it into the net to give France the ticket to the finals. France won the game of their lives in front of a sellout crowd at the Parc des Princes in Paris. 2-0 was the final score and Tigana and co. had made their mark.
Away from international football, the Frenchman returned to Bordeaux, business as usual. At the time, Bordeaux were a force to be reckoned with in French football and Tigana was a massive part of the success during that period. In a squad already blessed with plenty of international talent with the likes of Gernot Rohr, Gerard Soler, and Alain Giresse, Tigana had his own place of importance at the heart of the side.
After calling time on his career, Tigana would go on to make significant strides in the managerial world managing the likes of Lyon, Monaco and most importantly Fulham, whom he revolutionized upon his arrival in English football.
Although Tigana’s role in a playing capacity was a primarily defensive one, he promoted playing the right brand of football at Fulham and changed the lifestyles of his players as well and the players responded well to his methods of management.
Tigana said to The Coaches’ Voice, “When you don’t have the ball, you are not strong. You are obliged to fight to get it back. So we don’t lose the ball. We keep it.”
The Frenchman wanted to play out from the back and encouraged his players to carry on with the new style of play, despite a few setbacks initially.
Youngsters flourished under Tigana and the likes of Louis Saha, Luís Boa Morte, and Steed Malbranque improved and grew as players under his management. What’s notable is that he brought in Saha to replace an old-fashioned center-forward in Geoff Horsfield. This signaled the kind of changes he wanted to bring in at Craven Cottage and the changes paid dividends for him.
After taking over in April 2000, Tigana first helped Fulham reach the Premier League from Divison One by becoming champions. Further, he also guided Fulham to a mid-table finish and also took them to the UEFA Cup via the Intertoto Cup.
The former Monaco boss also had a spell at Beşiktaş, where he won the Turkish Cup and also returned to Bordeaux in 2010 for a season-long spell. He called time on his managerial career with a spell at Shanghai Shenhua in 2012, after a series of poor results, forcing him to resign from the Chinese Super League outfit.
Tigana’s legacy in French football remains eternal. The Frenchman was a part of several successful sides at Bordeaux during his spell at the club and was a key component at the club for his generation as well as the coming generation of talented youngsters. Tigana’s individual talents earned him nominations for several important accolades, and in 1984, he was voted as the winner of multiple individual awards including the French Player of the Year, the runner-up to the Onze d’Argent.
What remains to be said at the end of his career is that, although he may not have had a direct influence on today’s modern generation of French midfielders, however, he is certainly the perfect blueprint for the modern box-to-box midfielder.