Receiving his first international call-up from Michel Platini on 29 April 1989 against Yugoslavia, Deschamps started his international career in what was a dark time for the French team as they failed to qualify for the World Cup in both 1990 and 1994. When new team coach Aimé Jacquet began to rebuild the team for Euro 96, he initially selected Manchester United star Eric Cantona as captain. After Cantona earned a year-long suspension in January 1995, the make-up of the team changed dramatically, with veterans Cantona, Jean-Pierre Papin, and David Ginola being dropped in favour of younger players such as Zinedine Zidane. Deschamps, as one of the few remaining veterans, was chosen to lead what would be later be called the "Golden Generation". He first captained France in 1996 in a friendly match against Germany as a warmup for Euro 96. During that tournament, held in England, he led them all the way to the semi-finals, their best finish in an international tournament since the 1986 World Cup. In 1998, Deschamps captained France as they won the 1998 World Cup on home soil in Paris, holding an integral role in the team. Propelled by the momentum of this triumph, Deschamps also captained France as they won Euro 2000, giving them the distinction of being the first national team to hold both the World Cup and Euro titles since West Germany did so in 1974. Following the tournament, Deschamps announced his retirement from international football, making his second last appearance in a ceremonial match against a FIFA XI in August 2000, which resulted in 5–1 victory. His final appearance was against England. At the time of his retirement Deschamps held the record for the most appearances for France, though this has since been surpassed by Marcel Desailly, Zinedine Zidane and Lilian Thuram. In total, Deschamps earned 103 caps and scored four goals. Deschamps was named by Pelé as one of the top 125 greatest living footballers in March 2004. Deschamps was once derisively described by Cantona as "the water-carrier" by which Cantona meant that Deschamps only existed to pass the ball to "more talented" players.
On 10 July 2006, Deschamps was named head coach of Juventus, after Fabio Capello resigned in the wake of the match-fixing scandal. Deschamps' first game in charge of "Juve" was highly successful, since Juventus beat Alessandria 8–0 in a friendly. But poor results followed as Juventus was knocked out in the 3rd round of the Coppa Italia and then drew 1–1 against Rimini on the first day of the league season. But the following three matches, in which Juventus beat Vicenza 2–1, Crotone 0–3, and Modena 4–0, made it look like Deschamps had everything under control. Also, Deschamps helped Juventus to win their first competition since being relegated, which was the Birra Moretti Cup in which Juventus beat Internazionale 1–0 and Napoli in a penalty shoot out. He led Juventus to its return to Serie A, which was confirmed on 19 May 2007 with a 5–1 away win at Arezzo. On 26 May, several media announced Deschamps had resigned as Juventus manager, following several clashes with the club management. This was however denied by the club itself a few hours later. Later that evening, after the game against Mantova, which confirmed Juve as Serie B champions, Deschamps confirmed to the media that he had indeed resigned. The news was then made official by Juventus a few hours later.
France was placed in UEFA Group I for the qualification phase of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. UEFA Group I contained the defending world champions Spain, plus Belarus, Finland and Georgia. In that group, France earned a 1–1 draw away in the first match against Spain but lost 1–0 at home against the same opponents in the second match. After the 1–0 defeat by Spain, France failed to score a single goal in its next four matches – against Uruguay (friendly, 1–0), Brazil (friendly, 3–0), Belgium (friendly, 0–0) and Georgia(Group I qualifying match, 0–0). France finished second in the group, three points behind Spain, and thus had to win the two-legged play-off tie against Ukraine to advance to the final phase of the tournament. In the first leg held in Kiev, France was beaten 2–0 by Ukraine. Coming into the second leg, Ukraine had kept eight consecutive clean sheets and had not lost their last 12 matches. In the second leg held at the Stade de France, France beat Ukraine 3–0 to win the tie 3–2 on aggregate and became the first team to overturn a two-goal, first-leg deficit in a FIFA World Cup or UEFA European Championship qualification play-off. France thus qualified for the final phase of the FIFA World Cup for the fifth consecutive time. On 20 November 2013, Deschamps extended his contract to coach the France national football team until the UEFA Euro 2016. The extension was triggered under the terms of an agreement reached with the French Football Federation (FFF) when Deschamps replaced Laurent Blanc after the UEFA Euro 2012, whereby qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup would earn Deschamps the right to lead France until the UEFA EURO 2016 to be held in France.