Laurent Blanc’s appointment back in June aroused scepticism from some sections of the Parisien supporters. His connections with Marseille was one which I always felt was an ignorant conclusion to make. His achievements as a coach with Bordeaux were superb and his tenure with the French national team was by no means a disaster. But one thing that was apparent was that he was never the club’s first, second or even third choice. Now however, he has set a standard at the Parc des Princes which is impossible to overlook.
The club is progressing every single day. A book could be written on the remarkable rise to prominence in the last 30 months. With that however, lessons are evoked in all sectors of the club and no more so than with the owners who are always learning themselves. But they made a major blunder by not preparing a contingency plan for Carlo Ancelotti’s departure last season. I think there was an assumption that the Italian would remain and Nasser Al-Khelaifi and his entourage certainly dug their heels in to make sure that happened. That is not a bad thing at all, quite the opposite. It showed the belief Ancelotti had but also the persistence of the club not to be bullied. But sometimes, reality will result in the inevitable. Real Madrid are not just any other club. As soon as their interest was apparent in Ancelotti, it was obvious he would be heading for Spain. The Italian desired for that, as did the Spaniards. PSG were aware of the interest for some time but opted to ignore it and that proved to be a mistake.
Therefore a mini saga dragged on during the summer months. All the wrinkles needed to be ironed out for Carlo to move to the Santiago Bernabeu. It left ourselves in a real dilemma because we did not identify one clear cut candidate. Guus Hiddink, Fabio Capello, Jose Mourinho, Roberto Mancini, Andre Villas-Boas and so many more were apparently in the club’s sights. Even home-grown coaches like Rudi Garcia were mentioned and he is now doing an incredible job in Italy with Roma. It was a PR disaster for the club and from the outside looking in you would think the people behind the scenes were just plucking names out of the air. But little did they know they had a standout candidate staring right at them in the face, Laurent Blanc.
He was out of work, home-grown, endured success as a player, endured success as a coach, highly thought of in Europe and chomping at the bit to get back into coaching. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but had one of those other marquee names wanted the job, Blanc most probably would not have set foot through the Parc des Princes. It is the harsh reality but the club must be thanking their lucky stars. The Frenchman has not only built on his predecessor’s stellar work, he has to taken it to a whole new level.
He was a given a two year contract, an initial year with an option of a second. That did not exactly echo complete faith from QSI. The general consensus felt it was a smokescreen to then try and entice Arsene Wenger from Arsenal in the summer of 2014 – somewhat of a dream for the owners who have close connections with the Frenchman. But, as Wenger has his Arsenal team sitting at the top of the Premier League, Blanc has his side sitting top in Ligue 1 and undefeated. Perception has changed and now the club can really consider planning long term under Blanc’s stewardship.
The job he has done has been incredible to be honest. Undefeated in all competitions, stretched the unbeaten streak to 35 games (before Lyon game) and the football has been mesmeric at times. As I said before he has continued the good work under Ancelotti and much more. The football is far more entertaining in an attacking sense. Sometimes under Ancelotti the play was a little static at times with no real high intensity but with Blanc’s teams he has remonstrated to his player to start quickly, particularly at home. It was a flaw we had for some time. We tended to start a lot of games as if they were a chess match and that has changed now. We were always pretty solid under Carlo to be honest and that vain has continued. As well as having the best attack in Ligue 1, we have the second best defence having conceded just eight – only beaten by second-placed Lille who have conceded four.
For me however, the most notable trait he has is his squad management. Blanc has been able to rotate his players and mange them accordingly. You notice it predominately in a league game just before a midweek Champions League fixture. He will make around four/six changes, bringing in some of the younger talent such as Lucas Digne, Adrien Rabiot and Hervin Ongenda. One thing Ancelotti did not do was utilise the youth which Blanc is doing. Rabiot is blossoming into a terrific central midfielder after his loan to Toulouse at the back end of last season. Ongenda may not have got a look in under Carlo but Blanc is offering him chances and has excelled. Brownie points are definitely at a premium for the coach in that sense and the French contingent will always get chances under him. That is the plus of having a home-grown coach.
Tactically, he has made changes that have won games. At the Velodrome against Marseille, Thiago Motta was sent off in the first-half. To compensate for the depleted midfield, Blanc brought off Ezequiel Lavezzi in place of Rabiot to play with Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi. The change was a masterstroke. With 10-men we got back into the game and despite being a goal down, we ended up winning 2-1. That one little change swung the game in our favour and to beat Marseille at the Velodrome with 10-men is no easy feat whatsoever. Even last week against Olympiakos, Marquinhos was brought on late in the second-half as a centre midfielder and played the killer pass for Edinson Cavani to toe poke home the winner. Marquinhos, a centre-back by trade but played the pass from midfield which did not look uncomfortable by any means. Again, it was a change that ultimately resulted in a game being won.
Six months after taking the job, the 48-year old looks to be on the cusp of a deserved contract extension. Nasser Al-Khelaifi made the biggest hint last week by telling L’Equipe that Blanc deserves a longer contract; “Laurent Blanc is a great coach and he deserves a longer contract…he is one of the best coaches in the world”.
That is terrific news and Al-Khelaifi would not have said it for no reason. The players are enjoying their football, the fans are loving it as well. It all makes sense. QSI initially planned a long-term project under Ancelotti but they will now foresee to do that with Blanc and he deserves it.