Following in the footsteps of Don Carlo Ancelotti was always going to be a daunting task. The Italian left a legacy during his one and half year tenure before taking on the might of Real Madrid in 2013. Paris Saint-Germain had just won their first league title for 19-years and literally with the confetti still fluttering in the Parisian air, Carlo was on his way to the Bernabeu. That left the hierarchy at the club in limbo. Who could take over from – you can argue – the most respected coach in world football?
Carlo harboured the dream of managing Los Blancos. Despite President Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s best efforts, along with the then sporting director Leonardo, there was no changing the mind of the Italian. Things got bitter after a meeting between the trio and Ancelotti would go on live television declaring his intention to leave (in the presence of some of his PSG players).
Al-Khelaifi would response by saying that he has one-year left to run on his contract; “We talked to him (Ancelotti). He has asked us to go to Real Madrid, but he still has a one-year contract. I told him that it was not possible for him to leave. I was very clear. I’m not angry but disappointed. I’ve always been very honest with him. We are very close to him since the day he arrived. But I still hope to change his mind.”
The newly crowned French champions were fighting a battle they could not win. The lure of Real Madrid is too great for anyone, especially for a gentleman such as Ancelotti who wanted to deliver their 10th European Cup (which he did).
The worrying thing at the time is that the club were so ill prepared. There was no contingency plan. Madrid had wanted Carlo for months prior to that and the interest was real, which the club were aware of. It was if Nasser and Leo thought that they would just cross the bridge when they come to it and convince him to stay. It did not happen, Carlo said au revoir. And we were left to find a successor.
The summer of 2013 was littered with constant rumours, apparent talks and done deals for some of the game’s biggest coaches. The likes of Rafael Benitez, Rudi Garcia, Guus Hiddink, Andre Villas Boas, Fabio Capello and even Leonardo himself was touted for the job. The club though had this obsession to try and entice Arsene Wenger from Arsenal, which was never going to happen. It was practically a PR disaster.
Failure to lure one of the aforementioned, PSG would go on to appoint the out of work Laurent Blanc. At the time this was perceived an underwhelming appointment, mainly due to a not so memorable spell as French head-coach during Euro 2012. Nevertheless, he came with credentials; a glittering playing career and successful coaching spell at Bordeaux where he won a league title and Coupe de la Ligue, whilst implementing an attractive style of football.
Amazing to think now, but back then he was literally sixth choice to take over from Don Carlo. And even the appointment was deemed to be a stop-gap until a bigger name would become available the following summer. Fast forward nearly three years, LB is still the Parisian coach and has signed a new two-year contract extension. The words from President Al-Khelaifi say it all. As quoted by the club’s official site, he said; “I am extremely proud and happy to see Laurent Blanc continue his association with our club. Over the past three years, our coach and his staff are writing with their team a glorious page of the Club’s history, winning trophies and setting records. All conditions are clearly there to opt for stability. I always trusted him as well as believed in his ability to keep taking our team higher each season, while at the same time having them play a beautiful style of football that our fans, and football fans in general, really enjoy.”
It is amazing what can happen in a year. Had it not been for our victory over Chelsea in the last-16 of the Champions league, the French press were sharpening the knives for LB. Had Thiago Silva not netted that equaliser at Stamford Bridge and giving us the away goal advantage, who knows what might have transpired? It kicked us on to retain the league when it looked beyond us. And go onto win the two domestic cups. Paris Saint-Germain would complete a domestic quadruple, the first French club to ever achieve that feat. And we are well on course to do that again which would just be sensational and unprecedented.
Retaining the Ligue 1 title during his first season was a must. He achieved that! And then winning the first League Cup in six years for the club was the cherry on top. He impressed during that first year. Tactically, he made changes that won games as a result of his decision-making. At the Velodrome against Marseille in October 2013, Thiago Motta was sent off in the first-half. To compensate for the depleted midfield, Blanc brought off Ezequiel Lavezzi in place of Adrien 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. Already he warmed himself to the PSG supporters.
He has his critics. He can be tactically naïve but it is far less evident these days. How can your argue with the man’s record? It is unbelievable!
Goals scored: 336
Ultimately, he is going to be judged on results in Europe. After three successive quarter-finals, the aim now is to make it into the last-four. Getting there is easier said than done but for the first time, we have been drawn against a European heavyweight in Chelsea and been made favourites. That says it all! But, will we flounder or prosper with that label? We shall see. But, the form we are in at the moment is from another planet and the coach is a big reason for that.