It was Euro 1984, and hosts France were looking to get their hands on the very Henri Delaunay trophy that they had gifted to the world of football.
For the home tournament, Michel Hidalgo drafted in the French Spaniard Luis Fernández to add reinforced steel and concrete to a midfield which included the genius that was Michel Platini, upon whom rested the greatest of the nation’s expectations. Hidalgo had dragged France out of the doldrums after being in the international wilderness, and they were now in a prime position to once again take their seat at the football power table.
Fernández was the final piece in what is now hailed as one of the most formidable midfield foursomes in footballing history: "le carré magique"-- the magic square formation of Platini, Alain Giresse, Jean Amadou Tigana and Fernández.
Fernández, who became a French national in 1981, was placed at the bottom of the square to provide cover to the industry and attacking streak of Luis Tigani on the right, and the flair of the slightly-built Gigi Giresse on the left. Platini was given free reign at the top of the square to plunder and cause havoc behind the forwards. Whichever opponent the French faced the master plan was to shackle Platini, but no one was capable of getting near-- let alone, stifle-- him.
Hidalgo spoke at length about the pressure on Les Bleus to become champions of their own trophy, especially as the hosts were installed as favourites. Since taking over the reins in 1976, Hidalgo led France to the 1978 and 1982 World Cups. After losing to Germany in the ‘82 semi-final, the footballing fraternity began to sit up and take note of the progress of Les Bleus-- who until Hidalgo's appointment had not qualified for a major championship since 1960.
Platini was at his peak and playing the best football of his career, but the extent of his influence in ensuring a French home triumph at Euro 1984 greatly depended upon the discipline, support and balance he would receive to support his magnificent craft via showmanship from his illustrious team mates.
As with many famous quartets, this one lived up to its Hollywood billing, combining steel, Gallic flair and enterprise to make it revered as one of the world’s greatest midfield foursomes. Although the fab four were not strangers playing with each other, Hidalgo had bought them all together as an international quartet for the very first time.
Le carré magique relied upon the creative genius of Platini for much of their success, but it was the chemistry between the quartet that was key; enabling Platini to express his Gallic freedom and score decisive goals, leaving the rest of Europe trailing in his wake.
It was the groundwork put in by Giresse, Tigana and Fernández which allowed Platini to blossom and make such a huge impact. Twenty-three-year-old Fernández was the newcomer and quickly made the holding position his own; adding steel to the back four and becoming a crucial link between attack and defence. The rookie’s industry and bite made him a prototype: a vitally important midfield general, crucial in freeing up the artists to paint and add colour to the French canvas. Yet, despite his obvious ruggedness, he possessed a delightful touch and torpedo-like accuracy in his reading of the game.
Flanking Fernández was 1982, ‘83 and ‘87 French footballer of the year Alain Giresse, a supreme attacking midfield schemer renowned for his speed of mind and body. Joining them was three times French title winner Jean Tigana-- already established as one of the world’s best midfielders. Tigana may have only scored one international goal in over 50 appearances, but his tireless box-to-box forays perfectly complimented the quartet. It was all about the chemistry.
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Hidalgo's formation worked a treat as the precocious Platini scored in every single game as France romped home to the title. In a BBC interview, Jon Motson put the French genius on par with Johan Cruyff in 1976 and Diego Maradona in 1986. He had a point – Platini was unstoppable with his movement, pace and marksmanship – he was simply out of this world.
Le carré magique were instrumental in the Blues’ triumph. Ballon d’Or winner Platini was at the height of his powers. His nine goals in five games bought home the championship. In fact, Bruno Bellone’s 90th-minute clincher in the final against Spain at Parc des Princes was the first to be scored by a striker for France at the tournament! No disrespect to striker Stéphane Guivarc'h, but one can draw very similar parallels with the 1998 squad which triumphed against Brazil at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis. For Platini, though, this tournament was the springboard for him to score the winner in a European Cup final against Liverpool as well as capturing the World Player of the year title.
Platini may have been the spearhead of the famous le carré magique, but football fans will always appreciate the impact of his fellow midfielders had in ensuring his status as the player of the tournament. Fernández harried and harassed. Giresse applied his subtle artistry to devastating effect. Tigana covered more ground than a seasoned marathon runner with many notable observers testifying that it was the Mali-born star’s lung-busting forays and stamina that made the biggest difference. His last-minute of extra time skip past several Portuguese defenders, and the cut back from the byline for Platini to score the winner in sudden death is a breathtaking memory-- on par with Lilian Thuram‘s semi-final winning brace against Croatia at France ‘98.
Tigana finished second to Platini in the race for the Ballon d’Or that year; a testament to the fantastic contribution to his team’s success. The potent foursome were a perfect storm and the prime reason for Michel Hidalgo’s les Bleus being crowned European champions.
‘Le carré magique’ (poem) Inspired by Luis Fernández' interview on Sky Sport
It was just magnificent
La Platine, Gigi Giresse
Completing the Magic Square
Were Tigana and Fernández
“Magic because there was an understanding,
"Each one of us knew what we had to do,
"I couldn’t play like Platini,
"And he couldn’t play like me (too)
"Giresse couldn’t play like me,
"Nor could I play like him,
"But Platini needed Fernandez"
La Petit bonhomme sang the whim
"Fernández needed Tigana,
"Giresse & Platini" adding length
"And everyone knew that the Carre Magique
"Was France’s great strength"
The heart of French football
The quartet "Le carré magique"
All-star awesome foursome
C'était juste magnifique
By Emdad Rahman. Header image credit goes fully to Frederic Humbert.