Thursday, Michel Hidalgo left us. For many people, for us lovers of a sport that was not yet devoted to business, this death is much more than a page that is turned. Especially since, in the global circumstances in which it occurs (the mourning to which the Covid-19 forces us), it will deprive this conductor of a final procession to his measure. So we must say, write, testify, celebrate, what we owe him. This death is a final part of our childhood which flies away: that of “total football” in the French style. There remains a larger dimension, which we would not have had without him: an extra soul among lovers and a winning spirit among the Blues. Without which we might not have had the stars in our eyes in 1998 and 2018.
Romanticism and pragmatism
Hidalgo almost made history on June 3, 1956, when he scored his second goal from Stade de Reims in the final of the very first European Cup. But Madrid’s opponents, home to a Raymond Kopa who was still Reims the previous season, scored two goals and won. Born in the North, settled in Normandy in his childhood, the young Michel Hidalgo started a right winger with Le Havre, where he played two years before being transferred to Reims in 1954. In 1957, he landed in Monaco and took part in the emergence of the first great team of the Rock: champion of France in 1961 and 1963, and winner of the Coupe de France in 1960 and 1963. At the request of the princely family, the player Hidalgo made Prince Albert and Princess Caroline. In 1964, he became president of the National Union of Professional Footballers (UNFP). It was under his presidency that professional footballers in 1969 obtained the entry into force of the contract on time.
Read also Michel Hidalgo, Blue to the bottom of the eyes
National coach from 1976 to 1984, he is the one who uninhibited French football internationally: by playing on the one hand (with him, the Blues were nicknamed “Brazilians of Europe”), by the prize list of ‘on the other hand (it allowed France to win its very first international trophy, Euro 1984).
Entering the national technical direction of the French Football Federation in 1970, he became Stefan Kovacs’ assistant to the head of the Blues. Kovacs, the Romanian who coached the great Ajax of Amsterdam between 1971 and 1973, that of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens, that of “total football”, with whom he twice won the European Cup of champion clubs. He himself became national coach in March 1976, Hidalgo was able to rely on the hatching of a golden generation (Platini, Trésor, Bossis, Rocheteau, Janvion, Giresse, Tigana, Battiston) and qualified the Blues for the World Cup 1978 in Argentina. A first after two decades of absence. On March 27, 1976, Michel Hidalgo’s first match at the head of the Blues (a friendly France-Czechoslovakia, played in front of less than 10,000 spectators at the Parc des Princes) was also the first of a certain Michel Platini in the same jersey: the fate of the two men remained irreparably linked. Platini was the basis and the light of the Hidalgo system like Zinedine Zidane was, twenty years later, that of the scheme of Aimé Jacquet.
We will move on to the Argentinian World Cup: eliminated in the first round, the French were a collective in the making. Before the tournament, a section of French public opinion called for a boycott of the competition, which was to be held in a country under military dictatorship. Among the Blues, some shared this opinion, like Dominique Rocheteau. So the coach decided to bring his players together, to decide collectively whether they would go to Argentina or not. A large majority preferred to go there. But Hidalgo had established an esprit de corps to his collective. This is how he later created a team with players who lived the same football as him. This gang spirit would later be that of Aimé Jacquet or Didier Deschamps in the same position. Somewhere, these two made Hidalgo.
And many things connect these three selectors. When Hidalgo chose to play Giresse and Platini together, the press yelled that it was impossible. What did the boss do? Soon, he added a third playmaker: Genghini! With Tigana, a recovering environment, it was the famous “magic square” from 1981 to 1984, which was succeeded by the Giresse-Platini-Tigana-Fernandez quartet. It was a technical and licked style, but also physical. “Brazilians of Europe”. Hidalgo contradicted his world, imposed his way, while drawing from the pool at his disposal, which was this one. We remember that, a few weeks before July 12, 1998, Jacquet was mocked with his obsession with the Deschamps-Djorkaeff-Zidane-Petit system. We remember that before November 19, 2013, this 3-0 against Ukraine who qualified his own for the Brazilian World Cup, coach Deschamps was well contested. These three knew how to build a team in their image, and to be in the image of their team. These three have always placed the collective above everything.
Forever the first
Hidalgo is the name by which football, this English invention, definitively entered the history of France. It was July 8, 1982, in Seville, in the semifinal of the World Cup. Sevilla 82 is a paradox: a lost game on penalty shootout against the FRG, after a game that had all of the dramatic tragedy. But a founding elimination: it gave birth to a winning spirit. Without this trauma, surely there would have been no final victory two years later. It’s all an unconscious, which allowed the Blues to relax.
For many, July 8, 1982 is the trigger that allowed France-Portugal and France-Spain in 1984, France-Brazil in 1986. A date as mythical as July 12, 1998 (first victory in the World Cup), July 2, 2000 (victory at the Euro), on July 9, 2006 (lost final and Zidane’s coup de boule) and on July 15, 2018 (the victory of the “gang at Deschamps”).
This July 8, 1982, we (re) discovered that, yes, football stops time. Football before the reign of money. A football of high ideas. A whole generation discovered it during this great match. I’m one of them (I was 9 years old). “Children of Seville” for whom Hidalgo is a name that turns souls with a ball. So, yes, Hidalgo was a man and had flaws (OM general manager of the Tapie years, between 1986 and 1991, he was sentenced to joint punishments, including the suspended prison sentence, in the club accounts case).
But let’s be honest: we hadn’t imagined a world that could turn around without Michel Hidalgo and his ideals. Player, trade unionist, coach, coach, man: he has brought football into many lives, many dreams. We will always have to say thank you.
Hubert Artus is a journalist. Author notably of Galaxy Foot. Dictionary of rock, history and politics of football, Points, 2014, new version to be released in 2020.