France are already hungry for more seven weeks after World Cup win
There was a feeling of a class reunion on Monday at Clairefontaine. Although France's World Cup winners were celebrating their title just seven weeks ago on the Champs-Elysees, it felt like they hadn't seen each other in years. There was a lot of "I missed you." There were hugs, backslapping, loud laughs, big smiles, high fives, lots of funny handshakes and a ton of happiness when they all reunited for the first time since their triumph as they arrived at their HQ in the south of Paris on Monday.
Fashion-wise, the Givenchy red shorts-and-t-shirt combo worn by Corentin Tolisso made a few players laugh, while Lucas Hernandez displayed a Dolce & Gabbana t-shirt with "KINGS" written in the back, which seemed quite appropriate. The Atletico Madrid defender arrived with his club teammates Antoine Griezmann and Thomas Lemar. Florian Thauvin was the first to walk through the door at 11:00 a.m. and Paul Pogba the last, although he was still on time just before 12. Benjamin Mendy (who else?) was the loudest and N'Golo Kante (who else?) the quietest.
Benoit Costil, the Bordeaux goalkeeper, was the odd one out. At the time, he was the only player who was not in Russia -- now Benjamin Lecomte, his Montpellier counterpart, has also joined the squad to replace the injured Hugo Lloris. He replaced Steve Mandanda, who is also out through injury. The other 22 won the World Cup.
Lloris, the captain, came in to show his injury before being ruled out for the two games. He still managed to see his teammates. He will also be there on Sunday, like Mandanda, to parade with the trophy and be celebrated by the Paris crowd at the Stade de France before the game against the Netherlands.
The players were welcomed by a huge blue banner on the side of the building that read: "Welcome to our champions". At the bottom of the stairs, two big golden stars to signify their triumphs in 2018 and 1998.
Apart from the incredible mood and positive vibe in the camp, apart from Costil and Lecomte, apart from a new press officer after the old one retired after Russia and apart from the banner, nothing else has changed.
They took their keys to their usual bedrooms. Griezmann's is opposite Pogba's, as it always is. The Atletico striker brought his PlayStation, his mate and his laptop to play Football Manager. All that's changed is all their shirts have two stars over the heart instead of the one that was there before Russia.
Didier Deschamps was happy to see his "boys." He hugged and embraced every single one of them. He had a huge smile on his face. The head coach, who only became the third man in history to win the World Cup as a player and a manager after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer, looked happy, refreshed and ready to go again. Despite some criticism at times since the summer 2012 when he took over for Laurent Blanc, he has led the team to a World Cup quarterfinal in 2014, a European Championship final in 2016 and a World Cup triumph in 2018. It is pretty impressive. Yet, he is still hungry for more.
"The players are so happy to be together again," the France manager said in his news conference on Monday. "This game against Germany arrived quickly. We were world champions only six weeks ago. They did something sublime, but a new adventure starts. Life goes on. And we need to use what happened in Russia."
Earlier in the day, he had a little something to say to his players collectively, just before lunch. Of course, he reminded them that what they did in Moscow on July 15 was incredible, but he also highlighted that it was time to refocus and set new objectives to aim for. And that he believed they are just at the beginning.
Throughout the week, he will see his players individually. He might have a word with Kylian Mbappe regarding his red card with Paris Saint-Germain against Nimes last weekend because of a negative reaction after a bad tackle from an opponent. He will maybe have a chat with Pogba about his status at Manchester United and the latest in his relationship with Jose Mourinho. He will be, like always, very caring and protective.
Between them, the players talked all day about the World Cup. Monday was a day to reminisce, to remember and to galvanise even. In little groups, in the rooms of Griezmann or Mendy for example, they went through the tournament all over again. For some, it feels like it is still hard to realise that they actually won it.
Les Bleus met again on Monday, seven weeks after the greatest day of their careers, ready and hungry for a new campaign and more trophies. They didn't look blase. It was actually the opposite. They looked like they were ready to go again and achieve even more.