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Vive Le Président? Laurent Blanc: The Compromise Candidate

April 28, 2016 Tags: Opinion 17 comments
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Not a day passes without some form of speculation about the Old Trafford managerial position. When will José arrive? Will Louis see out his contract? Is Giggs being lined up for the top job this summer? It’s almost as if someone wants the fans’ attention to be focused anywhere other than the pitch.

Galloping into this minefield is former United defender, Laurent Blanc, who has recently been mentioned in dispatches. Given the machinations behind the scenes José Mourinho’s potential arrival at Old Trafford, Le Président’s possible availability could provide United’s powers-that-be the compromise candidate needed to avert an ugly boardroom schism growing ever deeper.

Blanc ticks the boxes that the United board is looking for on any quick checklist. Former player – check! Trophy laden CV – check! International pedigree – check! Big club experience – check! Managing superstars – check! Big name – check! European track record – check! Stature to become United manager – check?

The last criteria is open to interpretation. One of the key reasons that José’s candidacy is up for discussion is his behaviour and whether it meets the standards required by the club. It’s worth remembering that Ferguson wasn’t exactly a prim and proper gentleman on the touchline or in interviews.

Blanc certainly has the air of a man who could slip comfortably into the Old Trafford hot seat, but what of his managerial CV? The Frenchman’s success at Paris Saint-Germain is understandably tempered by Ligue 1’s lack of competitiveness.

This season the Parisians romped home, clinching the title in the middle of March by hammering Troyes 9-0. Meanwhile, the club retained the Coupe de la Ligue and PSG will compete in the final of the Coupe de France next month. Should PSG defeat a struggling Marseille then Blanc will have overseen back-to-back domestic trebles. In fact the Frenchman has delivered the Ligue 1 crown in each season since he joined PSG in 2013.

Despite his domestic success Blanc’s failure to take PSG beyond the Champions League quarter-final could lead to his departure from the Parc des Princes. PSG was beaten by Manchester City this season, putting into jeopardy the two year contract Blanc signed in February. It is a weird quirk of fate that City might somehow complicate the managerial situation at United by inadvertently throwing Blanc into the mix.

"Blanc is a coach with flaws, but he is no lightweight either. Would he bring a certain je ne sais quoi to the club or subject it to another year in the merde?"

It may be more instructive to review Blanc’s effect at Bordeaux, where he managed for three seasons starting in June 2007. In Blanc’s first season he steered the his side to second place in the league, before going onto win Ligue 1 and the Coupe de la Ligue in the following campaign. It broke Olympique Lyonnais’ stranglehold, before Blanc masterminded a run to the quarter-final of the Champions League, topping a group that contained Juventus and Bayern Munich, then coached by Louis van Gaal.

At Bordeaux Blanc demonstrated his ability to get the best out of mercurial talents. The supremely gifted, but frustratingly inconsistent Yoann Gourcuff produced his best football under Blanc, never again coming close to replicating that kind of form since Blanc left for the French national team.

On the international scene Blanc was precisely what Les Bleus needed after Raymond Domenech’s calamitous regime. Blanc’s presence restored dignity to the post and two years on from France’s 2010 World Cup fiasco, Le Président steered his troops to the quarter-final of Euro 2012, losing to eventual champions Spain.

Blanc’s tenure was clouded by a racism row that threatened his position as French manager after he was secretly recorded discussing potential caps on the number of Black and Arab players at regional youth academies in France. Blanc initially denied the allegation before making a more qualified statement once a transcript was released. Although officially cleared of any wrongdoing, the episode demonstrates that the Frenchman isn’t as squeaky clean as the Old Trafford power brokers may think.

After his stint as national coach Blanc was appointed as PSG boss, succeeding Carlo Ancelotti. It’s interesting to note that he was far from first choice – perhaps eighth in line, taking the notion of ‘compromise candidate’ to a ridiculous degree.

The main concern is that while Blanc has trophies under his belt they’ve only ever been won in France – and most at PSG, where the budget is in a different league to the club’s domestic competitors. Blanc hasn’t won a European trophy, although that is no reason to overlook his credentials outright. After all, United’s incumbent manger last won the European Cup in 1995. The Dutchman’s predecessor, David Moyes, won no major trophies at all.

The other open question is if Blanc will be encouraged to retain Ryan Giggs as an assistant coach. The rumour is that Blanc is happy to keep the Welshman as part of his mooted backroom staff, although he will most likely insist on bringing in Jean-Louis Gasset, who also worked at Bordeaux, France and currently at PSG. Blanc trusts Gasset’s tactical input and they have forged a strong working relationship. Where that leaves Giggs is an interesting conundrum – will Blanc defer to the Welshman on tactical issues instead of his trusted lieutenant, Gasset?

By all rights the answer should be ‘no’ given the fruitful relationship Le Président enjoys with Gasset. If that’s the case then retaining Giggs as part of the backroom staff could do more harm than good.

Laurent Blanc

Laurent Blanc: formed a strong bond with Ferguson at Old Trafford

Blanc would certainly be less divisive than Mourinho, which would sit comfortably at board level. The Frenchman also shares a genuinely warm relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, which stands the former in good stead.

“Laurent liked Ferguson a lot, and Ferguson liked him,” revealed former United goalkeeper Fabien Barthez. “They had talks, they share the same vision of football based on trust, and also a lot of love and protection towards the players.”

Moreover, the former centre-back’s vision of the game is arguably more suited to United’s traditions than the negative brand associated with Mourinho. Blanc likes his teams to keep possession, but is not so rigid that players must adhere strictly to any philosophy at the expense of creative expression.

Ángel Di María is a case in point. The Argentine international had more than his fair share of issues at United, but on a playing front he was restricted by Van Gaal’s tactical set-up. Under Blanc, Di María has flourished, albeit in an inferior league. It is telling how the PSG boss has opted to utilize the Argentinean’s skills and not stifle his more idiosyncratic qualities.

“We have to put his individual qualities at the service of the team, and not the other way round,” Blanc surmised.

That’s not to say that Blanc isn’t capable of oddball decisions too. Blanc sanctioned Serge Aurier after the right-back made ill advised comments on social media. Yet, against City, Blanc opted to restore a rusty Aurier for the two-legged tie and lined-up with a three-man defence in the crucial match at the Etihad. It was quite a gamble even factoring in suspensions and injuries. It failed – and directly fuelled speculation about Blanc’s future at PSG.

Still, whatever United’s options on a managerial level each represents a risk. Stick with Van Gaal? Offer Mourinho the keys to Old Trafford? Gamble on Giggs? In the end the path of least resistance might be Blanc, the compromise candidate.

He’s a coach with flaws, but is no lightweight either. Whether Blanc would bring a certain je ne sais quoi to the club or subject it to another year in the merde is another question. Either way, he would be few pundit’s first choice – a position that Blanc is used to.

17 comments

James Ryddel - April 28, 2016 Reply

that is an old photo… PSG have been heavily criticised for their CL showings of late. They were poor against City.

Marco - April 29, 2016 Reply

Love the hipster bins Larry.

Mike - April 29, 2016 Reply

There was a whiff of xenophopia and nepotism in the United boards hiring of Moyes. Now if they hire Blanc we will have a full blown stench of racism. Its show how logical our board is in preserving the United way Mourinho might destroy.

Its remarkable how a winner like Mourinho is being shunned. Could it be he might win a couple of Premier Leagues and or even a Champions League and then terminally bury the ongoing genius aura of SAF and his cronies want to perpetuate.

Mourinho now is down on his luck and would be more willing than at any time in his career for some at stipulations a aka playing Rashford Mensah & Martial. (All the other young players aren’t as good as we want to pretend)
I just realized it’s not even worth continuing writing this.

subterranean steve - April 29, 2016 Reply

Mike, having read the nonsense in your second paragraph, I agree that it really wasn’t worth you continuing on.

subterranean steve - April 29, 2016 Reply

An interesting article, Thariq. With all the back-biting and sniping going on in the LVG/Mourinho/Giggs debate, perhaps a new alternative, hopefully unifying, candidate could be the way to go.

Blanc’s managerial track record is sound enough and his reputation is that of a progressive coach. An intelligent and cultured player he always looked like a potential top flight manager.

Why not?

Julian - April 29, 2016 Reply

It seems it’s a case of anyone but Mourinho (“ABM”) Why Blanc? What has he actually done exactly beyond winning domestic trophies where the opposition isn’t exactly top notch? There was even a story put out that PSG are thinking of replacing him this summer due to indifferent performances – particularly in the ECL. If Blanc, why not Pochettino? Or does it depend on which manager will take Giggs as his assistant?! I am beginning to think no final decision has been made and that the weak kneed board is waiting, indeed hoping and praying, that LvG will deliver an FAC and ECL admission so that he can see out his contract with Giggs ultimately taking over. They may well be stuck with that mind set. But what happens if there is no ECL spot and no FAC – what then? It has all the potential of being one big damp squib!

bobbynoble - April 29, 2016 Reply

This silly season is bringing out the trolls.

Dayusdred - April 29, 2016 Reply

I thought Mourinho was fired @ chelsea? What makes mourinho a better coach than Blanc? Wasn’t Blanc’s psg that knocks out Mourinho’s chelsea the last time they met in CL? The Mourinho apologists should take their PR somewhere. United do not need a coach that win a couple of trophies and the leave the club in ruins. He is not the messah that claim he is.

denton davey - April 29, 2016 Reply

“What makes mourinho a better coach than Blanc?

Jo$e is a serial winner.
2 CL titles plus countless other trophies.

Larry White has won the French league several times but what else ?

As to the point about “Mourinho was fired @ chelsea?” – have they done any better without him ? Maybe – perhaps – he got that bunch to over-achieve last year when they won the EPL by Xmas and then just cantered home.

Dayusdred - April 29, 2016 Reply

The only problem i envisage is whether Giggs will agree to work with him. But am sure something can be worked out haven played together @ the club.

denton davey - April 29, 2016 Reply

“The only problem i envisage is whether Giggs will agree to work with him.”

Really ? why is SilentRyan so important ? He was a great player but he’s hardly proved himself in management and – to be brutally honest – what are his contributions as the #2 man during these last three years ?

Julian - April 29, 2016 Reply

It’s very odd. All I can think is that the club still has some romantic notion that one of their own should be team manager. It was always the intention that Giggs should succeed LvG at the end of three years by which time it was thought he’d be taking over a settled and successful team with no re-building required. In that regard I suspect that Giggs was foisted on to LvG. Anyway, that plan is somewhat in disarray right now.

Opti - April 30, 2016 Reply

Fergie won a European Cup with Aberdeen against Real Madrid and couldn’t stop winning. Mourinho won the Champions League with FC Porto and couldn’t stop winning. Blanc won the French league with a (young?) Bordeaux side, but never broke into the European elite with P$G.

However, Blanc has an eye for brining through youth. With his United past, he does understand Fergie’s and United’s ethos. I like this idea, if he would commit to United…

Dayusdred - April 30, 2016 Reply

Of all the trophies Mourinho has won, how many of those teams did he build himself? @ Chelsea he met a team already built by Ranieri, (CL semi finalist and came second in the league just one pt behind Arsenal invissibles). @ inter, Mancini had already won 2 scudetos with the team before Jose took over. @ Madrid he failed to win the la decima he was hired to win but Ancelotti won it with almost the same squard. With all his so called power he failed to take Chelsea any european glory in 6yrs incharge. Until now he has never rebuilt a team in distress and never had more than two yr success in a row @ any club. The third yr is always a disaster. Giggs has no experience, i wonder what experience Pep had before he had his break @ Barca.

Opti - May 1, 2016 Reply

Anyone could coach that Barca team to success. Same goes for Bayern in Germany… has Pep ever had competition? A City, he will struggle and blame the English league for low-quality football before leaving for MLS 2 years from August.

Subterranean Steve - May 1, 2016 Reply

if we are talking about left-field candidates, how about Guillermo Amor.

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