The tortuous heat within Guadalajara’s Estadio Jalisco was at furnace-like levels. The date was 21 June 1986 and France’s Luis Fernández had just confidently, and not without a degree of force, placed the decisive kick of the ball to the right of Brazil’s Carlos Roberto Gallo, ending the two nations’ remarkable quarter-final clash at the World Cup finals. Almost 30 years later, it still doesn’t seem right that such an iconic battle should have been decided by a penalty shoot-out.
With that one swing of Fernández’s right foot, the World Cup careers of Sócrates and Zico came to an abrupt end, while simultaneously anything now seemed possible for Les Bleus. It was, however, to prove a supernova moment for France, for Fernández and for the midfield quartet for whom he had emerged to be the final piece of the jigsaw.
France’s Carré Magique would not go on to lift the Jules Rimet trophy. It would not even reach the final of Mexico 86. The Spanish-born Fernández was cursed by his winning penalty against Brazil. Many people struggle to see past that penalty when it comes to the career of Luis Fernández and his wider role within France’s Magic Square.
Fernández’s international career didn’t end with that penalty kick, it would go on to carry him through the dark days of France’s sharp decline, a dip in fortunes which saw them fail to qualify for Euro 88 and Italia 90. Fernández eventually played a part in the early green shoots of recovery when they convincingly qualified for Euro 92. He was the last member of the legendary Carré Magique to take to the field for his adopted country.
Carré Magique was a source of national identity through the medium of football and the reinvention of the concept of the narrow midfield. As a quartet they came together for the first time in February 1984 at the Parc des Princes in a friendly against Bobby Robson’s England. They last shared a football pitch back at the Jalisco four days after the win against Brazil, in a game where the script demanded French retribution. The demons of Seville four years earlier were about to be exorcised. West Germany had ideas all of their own and when Alain Giresse was withdrawn from the semi-final rematch in the 72nd minute, the dream more or less ended there and then.
For many people, the indelible image of the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain is that of Marco Tardelli, fists clenched, open-mouthed, head shaking almost in disbelief, running, just running and running after scoring that wonderful goal for Italy in the final against West Germany. When Giresse put France 3-1 up against the very same opponents in that Seville semi-final he celebrated his goal in a strikingly similar fashion. Fists clenched, open-mouthed, head shaking almost in disbelief, running, just running and running. Alain Giresse is a man whose finest moments always seemed to end up being trumped by the last turn of someone else card, when it appeared he had the hand all but won.
Giresse at a diminutive five feet four inches tall was a figurative rather than literal giant on the pitch. It’s still striking now when you see footage of Spain 82, Euro 84 or Mexico 86 not just by how short he looks, but by how slender he also seems – as if he could be blown away by the warm summer breeze as much as he might be brushed off the ball by opposing players. Those looks were deceiving, not only to foes but also to supposed friends. Despite being the long-standing heartbeat of the Bordeaux side and a scorer of high numbers of goals from midfield, Giresse was regularly overlooked for the national side for extended periods of time.
Giresse made his first appearance for Les Bleus in late 1974. It would be eight years before he kicked a ball in the finals of a major international tournament. France’s failure to qualify for the European Championship finals of 1976 and 1980, combined with him missing the cut for Michel Hidalgo’s squad at the 1978 World Cup finals in Argentina, meant Giresse was a latecomer to the biggest of football’s stages. In fact, he was fast approaching the age of 30 by the time Spain 82 kicked off.
Giresse’s despair at missing out on the squad for Argentina 78 was the driving force behind his belated run to eventual prominence within Hidalgo’s Carré Magique. Competition for places in the France midfield was fierce, yet at times there was a history of the best individuals being selected, rather than the right components to create a cohesive unit. It was this concept that held Giresse back as long as it did. Even throughout the qualifiers for Spain 82 the formation and personnel of France’s midfield was changed perpetually.
Giresse was joined in the Carré Magique by his Bordeaux teammate Jean Tigana. Like Giresse, momentum at international level took some time in coming for Tigana. He celebrated his 27th birthday during España 82 and benefitted from the near collective ostracisation from the squad of Jean-François Larios over his heavily publicised fall-out with the Carré Magique’s rapier point, Michel Platini.
Tigana offered a different on-pitch product to that of Larios. Whereas Larios had an almost laconic presence, one that provided a near rival to Platini for ultimate prominence, Tigana proved to be the perfect foil to not just Platini, but also Fernández. Added to his club understanding with Giresse, Tigana acted as the anchor for the others to strike forth. While Tigana covered much of the defensive duties, he wasn’t an unfamiliar sight going forward and shuttled box-to-box with consummate ease.
It was the selfless nature of both Tigana and Fernández, coupled with the determination of Giresse to rise above his rivals and win his place in the side, which ultimately gave Platini the same type of freedom of expression that Johan Cruyff previously enjoyed in the days of Totaalvoetbal and the Dutch rhapsody in orange. It was Hidalgo’s move from a collection of individual performers, to a cohesive and symbiotic collective in his engine room that succeeded in reaping such outstanding rewards at Euro 84. Only after individuals such as Larios, Dominique Bathenay, Dominique Rocheteau and Didier Six were removed did France evolve from a set of players elbowing one another in the ribs in a bid for greater prominence, to the advent of the Carré Magique.
The peak of the Carré Magique’s powers came early. From their first coming together against England in Paris at the end of February 1984 they would go on to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy just four months later. Five perfect games included a remarkable nine goals for Platini, as he found the net in each and every game and was the scorer of two hat-tricks along the way. There was beauty to behold, yet it was built upon an almost invisible undercurrent of discipline. Giresse and the interchangeable Tigana and Fernández tucked into what could almost be described as inverted inside right and left positions, while the spare man dropped.
It was a system that proved hypnotic. This was a midfield that was so all-encompassing that today people struggle to recall the names of France’s nominal strikers at that tournament. It had nothing to do with their strikers; it instead had everything to do with the Carré Magique.
The Euros of 1984 were the epicentre: 1982 was too soon, 1986 was too late, but 1984 was an oasis of perfection for French football. No matter what new highs have passed for France since Euro 84, nothing has quite matched the fluidity of that remarkable summer for them.
It’s no coincidence that each and every member of the Carré Magique has gone on to careers in coaching. While Platini may have cashed his coaching aspirations in early to undertake a controversial political football career instead, he was the man at the helm of the national team as they returned to the major international stage at Euro 92 after the desolation of failing to reach either Euro 88 or Italia 90. They were the first steps on a path that led to World Cup and further European glory in under a decade.
Giresse has spent a decade on an international coaching odyssey, mainly in Africa after leaving a second spell in charge of Toulouse. Fernández enjoyed success both domestically and in Europe with Paris Saint-Germain, also coaching in LaLiga with Athletic, Espanyol and Real Betis, leading the former to a runners-up spot behind Barcelona in the late 1990s. Fernández, like Giresse also coached at international levels, while Tigana is mostly remembered in the UK for his at times volatile spell at Fulham, yet led Monaco to the title prior to arriving in London. Tigana subsequently returned to Bordeaux for an unsuccessful period, after taking the coaching post at Beşiktaş.
Each member of the Carré Magique has remained in the spotlight. As Platini deals with the devastating blows to his career, Giresse, Tigana and Fernández continue to dip in and out of coaching roles in various outposts around the world, occasionally pausing to offer sometimes controversial opinions about the merits of the current guardians of the national side.
The spirit and the fight still burns brightly for the Carré Magique, though, and they are sure to have much to say when Euro 2020 draws into view. Despite their outspoken nature since retiring, fans of French football and the game in the 1980s will remember the brilliance of the Magic Square as one of the best midfield quartets the game has ever seen.
By Steven Scragg @Scraggy_74