PARIS (AP) – For Michel Hidalgo, playing soccer the right way always meant playing the beautiful way.
The coach who led France to the 1984 European Championship title and the 1982 World Cup semifinals with an unrelenting commitment to an attacking style of play, died on Thursday, the French soccer federation said. He was 87.
With the prodigious Michel Platini pulling the strings in a superb midfield known as the “Magic Four,” Hidalgo brought France back to the top of international football in the 1980s after years of underachievement.
“Michel lifted France to the summit of its art,” Platini said in a statement. “Making the choice of the beautiful game and allowing each one of us to express all of our ability and our individual talent.”
Inspired by the symbiotic Hidalgo-Platini connection, France came within a whisker of reaching its first World Cup final in 1982, losing on penalty kicks to West Germany following a pulsating 3-3 draw.
France has since won two World Cups, including the most recent in 2018.
But Hidalgo put France back on the soccer map in scintillating style, creating its best team since Les Bleus reached the semifinals of the ’58 World Cup.
Purists adored the way Hidalgo’s teams were almost fixated on creativity, even at the expense of defending. The “Magic Four” and was arguably the best in the world at the time. Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Bernard Genghini were the other three.
Only the tough tackling and strong-running Tigana was a physical player.
The others were all about grace, skill and slick passing, infused with total confidence by a mentor who never held them back by imposing a style of play at odds with their technical strengths.
“He protected me with gentleness, allowed me to blossom on the field and was among those who allowed me to become the player I was,” Platini said. “I keep a personal memory of a man who was gentle, an educator and sincerely humanist … Michel Hidalgo will forever be in my heart.”
Like Platini, Genghini was a slim and frail-looking player compared to some bone-crunching midfielders of the time. At 1.62 meters, Giresse was uncommonly small for a midfielder.
But Hidalgo trusted them all. He allowed the quick-thinking Giresse to unleash all of his exquisite passing and his long-range shooting, meshing it with Platini’s extraordinary playmakers’ vision.
Recalling one game, Genghini summed up Hidalgo’s penchant for attack.
“He picked three number 10’s – me, Platini and Giresse – behind three forwards,” Genghini told sports daily L’ Équipe’s website. “We had to take risks, so he dared.”
Hidalgo coached France in 75 games, behind only Raymond Domenech and current coach Didier Deschamps.
Soccer federation president Noël Le Graët spoke of his “immense sadness and deep emotion” upon hearing of Hidalgo’s death.
“The federation, our football, are in grieving,” Le Graët said. “With his style of play, his personality and his exemplary passion, he contributed to our sport shining at international level and its popularity in France.”
During his playing days from 1952-66, Hidalgo was an attacking midfielder who scored regularly for Le Havre, Reims and Monaco.
He won the French league and French Cup as a player, and scored in the European Cup final when Reims lost to Real Madrid 4-3 in 1956. He put his club ahead 3-2 after the Spanish team rallied from a 2-0 deficit.
Platini and Genghini, at least, got to see their mentor shortly before he died.
“A few weeks ago, we organized a small party for him with a lot of former players from the France team,” Platini said. “It was both a very moving and joyous occasion. And I could see in the eyes of my teammates how important he had been for each of us.”
AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report.
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