April 1, 2021
Digard up against Digard
At 34 years old, Didier Digard joined the first team coaching staff on 4 December after Adrian Ursea's appointment as Head Coach. Assistant coach of the U17s for a year at the time, he has since blossomed in his familiar yet different daily routine. A middle ground where experience mixes with discovery, where his past serves to build for the future and where his personality, focused on others, allows him to play a key role in the present. Before the trip to Nantes, we wanted to confront the former player with the new coach.
Didier, when you were a player what did you say to yourself before going into training?
Depending on the day of the week, I had a decent idea of the content of the session, but when you are a player, you think about things less. The difference when you're a coach is that you know exactly what you're doing in each session, what's the objective that you are trying to achieve from the match at the weekend. As a player, you're more focused on yourself, whereas the coach is focused on the whole squad.
Now that you are a coach, how do you prepare for a session?
Each opposition has specific qualities and weaknesses. We need to find a way to analyse them correctly. We also need to identify our own strengths and areas for improvement, then to work on them during the week in function of the problems that the team we will come up against could pose. Ahead of the week, all of these criteria are taken into account. The sessions follow on from that. What varies is the level of physical work and training levels that we will look to put in place in order to be at our best on matchday.
When you were a player, did you have habits?
No. Not as player nor today. It makes me laugh, because among the staff, some have rituals and so I wind them up, because I start from the principle that we do a lot every day in order to prepare correctly for the match. It's like when people wish me luck: it's the work we do day in, day out, that makes a week and wins a match, not luck.
Has your mental attitude changed before a match?
Of course, because now I go through a lot more. It's more complicated because we have to rely on the players and at the same time, we need to have an impact. As a player, you have the capacity to change things more quickly. It's easier to experience…
Because coaching demands a lot of self-questioning, especially when it isn't working. Why? What didn't we explain clearly or do correctly? Why wasn't the message conveyed? Is it us, is it them? It's difficult. And it never stops, you are constantly thinking things over.
"I have always been ready to listen"
There are several ways to take on-board instructions when you are a player. What was your method?
Even though I have a lot of character, I have always been ready to listen. And I was never a problem to manage.
Do you have a way of conveying your instructions that differs for each player, or is there a general Digard-esque way of doing so?
You have to individualise things as much as you can. From the moment that players are different, you can't talk to them all in the same way. Some understand best with images, others with shouting, others through talking calmly. You need to know the players as well as possible in order to have the best chance of being properly understood. I don't hide the truth, but that's my way of working.
Is the pitch also an important tool when looking to make yourself understood?
Yes because explaining something through video clips is good, but when you can take them through a live example on the pitch, that's something else. That way you have a clear example, there is no debate, no excuses can be made like: "We didn't see it clearly, it happened quickly" The pitch speaks more than anywhere else.
Of all of the elements of the role of a coach, which do you like the most?
Everything. But if I had to choose just one thing, it would be the relationships. Speaking with a player, I think it's a moment of privilege. For the player and for him, because he can see that we are looking after him, that we really want him to progress. That's very important.
In your way of correcting and directing, what differs in your approach between the youngsters and the pros?
What do you mean?
In youth football, the objective is to improve players. I'm not inventing anything new in saying that. The result is less important than the content of the match, which allows you to accompany a player as he builds his career and looks to progress. With the pros, the content of the match brings continuity, but the priority will always be the result. We know the matches are won through confidence and confidence is the only way to liberate players and allow them to bloom while taking on-board your instructions. You need the content in the matches, because over a season that's what allows you to obtain what you want, but the result remains the priority, so everything becomes more urgent. You need to be good quickly, take on instructions quickly. That's where our role becomes important. We need to find the best way to make ourselves understood.
"The credit will always be given to the players…"
Did you speak more on the pitch when you were captain of Le Gym, or now as assistant coach?
I haven't changed my approach. I have always spoken in the dressing room and on the pitch. Today, I just do it differently. For example, I don't go into the dressing room. For me, that's the players' area. I didn't like people coming there when I played, so I don't see why I would do so now. But outside of that, we talk a lot. I don't think I speak any more or any less than before. I have always looked after everybody, those who are playing and those who aren't playing, I have always been like that.
You are yet to be present on the bench in front of a full stadium. Do you think that this will change your way of being, especially in terms of the instructions you give?
I think it will push us to perform even better. I don't know if that opportunity will present itself this season, because it's looking difficult to see how we can have fans at the ground in the short-term. With the atmosphere, it's difficult to make yourself heard, to share messages with the players. It can take a bit longer and at this level, you don't have that time. It will push us to be even more demanding.
Can a match be won from the bench?
I think so, even though the credit will always be given to the players…
Do you get the impression that you are more passionate today than you were as a player?
I have always been passionate, I have always watched matches, which has always lead to a certain way of thinking. That's why tactically, I do quite well for myself for someone who is just starting in this role. But today, I think I am less passionate, but more focused on the details, our work and analysis. The difference is there.
And do you get the feeling that you make more of an impact?
I have less influence than when I was a player. (After thinking) Well, maybe more influential on a daily basis, but less so during the match.
What would Coach Digard have made of Captain Didier?
It's tough because it would come back to summing up my career. Today, I don't really know, because my career is quite difficult to analyse. Injuries remain a central theme, it's what held me back from achieving what I wanted to. But I think I would have liked my personality, my combativeness. I also had lots of shortcomings, areas for improvement. I think that I would have made myself work and I would have been a player who could be relied upon.
And what would Captain Didier have made of Coach Digard?
That's difficult to say too, because I was very young. But like when I played, I listen and I think I am reliable, because that is part of my personality. I try to bring what I can, I say things, good or bad, but always with the aim of improving things. And when I am wrong, I like to be told so, because that's part of learning. I discover, I hope that I don't take too long to learn and to perform. Like when I was a player, my focus is always to serve the club as best as I can.
"Back then we spent three hours at the training ground, we spend eight hours now"
In terms of the sessions, have things changed since your playing days?
Things have changed because football is constantly evolving and our facilities allow us to perform work that world have been impossible before. So yes, compared with my days, things aren't the same. It's completely different. Back then, we spent three hours at the training ground, we spend eight hours now. Days are a lot longer, the work is a lot more focused, because our structures allow us to do so.
As a coach, what has Adrian brought you?
With Adri’ and Fred’, we have a unique relationship, we talk from morning until evening, I listen a lot, I give my opinion and I learn. They give me everything I need in order to progress. I am lucky: to have so much dialogue, so much freedom, that they ask me so many questions. With Fred, we are there to help Adrian, who at the end of the day, is the one that takes the decisions. Adri’, Fred, Nico’ Dehon and Nico’ Dyon: everybody gives something to me. I love conversing with people, so I learn from everyone. Physical preparation is something that really interests me, I ask questions. The same goes for the goalkeepers.
Goalkeepers and physical prep, were those things that you were interested in before?
Everything has always interested me in football. But today it's more detailed. Before it was more general, now I look to understand the details, to get a deep understanding.
During your career, had you ever coached in kids football?
Never. Honestly, even now, I don't think I have the level for that. I find it hard, very hard and it's completely different. From 15-17 years old, I think I have the capabilities to bring something to them. But the little ones, it's very difficult. When I see their coaches, I admire them. They really deserve our admiration.
Between Marseille and Nantes, what would have been the captain's message?
For a player and a coach, it's the same. The match against Marseille was very good, but unfortunately, it's in the past now. It's just three points and from the day after, we had to switch our focus to Nantes. After Lorient, we were disappointed with our performance, we managed to take a point and we needed to build on that against Marseille. But if we want to maintain this confidence and push on, we need to go to Nantes and take all three points. If we don't, we won't say that it's a drop in the ocean, because it won't take away the 3 points from Marseille, but they won't be as important as if we can make it back-to-back wins. We need to pick up points, compete and try to finish as high up the table as possible.
"We want players with the club's spirit"
What has your schedule looked like in the past two weeks?
We had lots of players away on international duty, so we worked with a reduced squad. We took care with players who might have had little warning signs. Bit by bit, the internationals came back, and we could return to normal. There has only been today (Wednesday) that we have returned to full matches, so that the players don't go for too long without playing on a full pitch. It allowed us to give some youngsters a chance so that we could take a look at them.
You mention the youngsters from the academy?
What's important is their spirit. We want players with the club's spirit, ready to fulfil what we ask of them. We will always forgive any technical and tactical shortcomings, because we can't have perfect players, but we are extremely demanding on their mental approach. They came up and they did what we asked of them. We know that we can rely on them when we need them.
You spent a lot of time with Le Gym (165 matches between 2010 and 2015), experienced relegation battles, qualifications for Europe. Le Gym that you knew and represented, is it easy to convey that to the players?
I don't know if it is easy, but in any case, it's natural. The club does exceptional work in that area, with the arrival of lots of former players on the academy coaching staff, so that they can quickly pass on the values to the players that arrive. They need to be able to quickly identify themselves with the club, to have that desire to give their all. When we are here, we know that we are at a club with a spirit and history that stands out. You need to feel that and integrate it because the fans are extremely attached to it.
You ('young former players') are also witnesses of a period that wasn't that long ago but that was extremely different…
Yes. It's important. When a club has such a strong identity, you have to pass that on. You need to explain what you saw, what you lived through and above all, you cannot afford to lose the spirit. That has always been the same: we haven't been criticised for the defeats. Often when there were problems, we were criticised for our spirit. We look to transmit that to the players on a daily basis.