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Have you seen this manager? Laurent Blanc

Wednesday 26th April 2017
Whether still chasing silverware, desperately seeking to avoid relegation, or sitting comfortably mid-table, clubs across Europe are beginning to plan for next season even as this one runs down. Some will be searching for a new manager. One or two are already available. Since Simon Pegg was allowed to make a three flavored Cornetto trilogy, I thought I'd start a milk carton series on managers who have been away from the public eye for a time but may be on a few clubs' radar as summer approaches. Laurent Blanc is the first.
Larry Tate was Darren's boss on the old American sitcom Bewitched. David White was the actor who played him. The show was always on when I came home from grade school in the early seventies. News flash: I'm old. Reruns are probably still aired on Nick at Nite or some other nostalgic cable channel but TV isn't my thing. I'm all about YouTube and live streaming these days. Still, I'm not going to fork over hard cash for something I used to watch for free. So, Bewitched lives on only in my mind, which, as you may be suspecting right about now, is a cluttered place. What was it Gandalf said about Barliman Butterbur in Fellowship of the Ring?

A worthy man, but his memory is like a lumber-room: thing wanted always buried.

That would be me. Requiring some additional RAM after fifty years, my brain had condensed actor David and character Tate into Larry White. If you're a bilingual football fan, you will know that is English for Laurent Blanc.

Why a fictitious advertising executive and a living, breathing football manager would be conjoined like inseparable Siamese twins in my brain necessitates psychoanalysis that writing for a living does not permit me to budget. The two are nothing alike. Physically unable to stop talking, Larry Tate was an anxious, unprincipled, vacillating, sycophant prepared to change his opinion to match a well-heeled client's at the drop of a hat. Laurent Blanc is a quiet, steady presence, sure of himself and his tactics, unlikely to change for anyone, including obscenely rich Qatari royalty who have bought a football club for fun. For le President, a Gallic shrug is being overly expressive. All the two have in common is I haven't seen nor heard from either in ages.

Although previously having been boss at Bordeaux and with Les Bleus, Blanc was last seen managing at the Parc des Princes for Paris Saint-Germain from 2013-16. Winning Ligue 1 in all three seasons with les Parisienes while doing an unprecedented domestic treble in his second and third seasons fell short of ownership's expectations. Consecutive quarterfinal appearances in the Champions League were deemed failure. He was let go.

Unai Emery was named to replace him. The Spaniard has largely struggled, at this late juncture still unable to guide his new club past AS Monaco in the Ligue 1 table. Les Monegasques remain top on goal difference and with a match in hand despite remaining active in the Champions League. PSG's four-year reign as French champions is at risk. Worse, Emery's squad crashed out of the Champions League quarterfinals even more ignominiously than Blanc's ever did. After romping to a 4-0 advantage in the home leg against Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain famously capitulated 5-6 on aggregate at the Camp Nou.
As stoic as ever, Blanc has not commented on his successor's defeat. Inside, you have to believe he is laughing. I like to think, if asked, he might give his pleasure away with a Gallic shrug.

To be fair to Emery, Barca were aided greatly by the officiating. Nevertheless, a Laurent Blanc squad has never been one to concede a six-pack to any side. A defender during his playing career, his clubs have always been disciplined on the pitch. The nickname, le President, was lovingly bestowed upon him by Olympique Marseille teammates who appreciated his ability to martial OM's defense. It was strong organization that allowed his Bordeaux side to finally topple Lyon's seven-year monopoly on the Ligue 1 title. His steel was why he was hired to succeed Raymond Domenech as French coach almost as soon as he announced his interest to the FFF, Les Bleus then still in the throes of its notorious World Cup mutiny in South Africa. Had he still been in charge this season, his side may not have scored four in the opener but so many wouldn't have been necessary. Like Juventus, Blanc's eleven would have shut down the Blaugrana in the second leg to protect a lesser lead.

In fact, Serie A is where I believe Blanc would be most welcome in his return. As noted, he was a legend as a player at Marseille. Returning to coach at Stade Velodrome could be difficult, though, after having gone over to the enemy when he accepted the PSG job. He might develop a good working relationship with Lyon's shrewd operator, Jean-Michel Aulas. Their personalities seem like they would dovetail perfectly. Yet, Blanc has accomplished everything in France while leaving loose ends untied in Europe. No other French side currently has the backing to deal with PSG and Monaco on level terms. they wouldn't be able to take him where he wants to go.

Blanc's defensive roots would appeal to any Italian club. Roma, Napoli, and Lazio would surely snap him up in hopes he might unseat the Old Lady as he did Lyon. Volatile ownership at those clubs might not suit Blanc's temperament, however. Either San Siro club would be a better match. Inter are desperately looking for a coach to mold a young squad, as Blanc did in wine country. As well, the Nerazzurri was among the shirts he wore in his playing days. Meanwhile, Milan have new Chinese ownership who will be similar to the Qataris in their ambition and naivete, if not quite as deep in the pocket. Blanc has negotiated those waters previously. For that matter, Juve itself might be interested in his services. Massimiliano Allegri has been alternatively touted to replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, Unai Emery at PSG, and Luis Enrique at Barcelona. Stepping into the Turin job could give Blanc his best opportunity to break through in the Champions League.
One place the Frenchman is not going is the Camp Nou. Sport English recently reported, quoting his agent, there had been no contact between club and manager. As a player, Blanc had a cup of coffee with the Blaugrana, appearing in twenty-eight games during the 1996-97 campaign. Nevertheless his philosophy is too much at odds with the Catalans'. Theirs would be a poor match.

At any rate, Laurent Blanc's milk carton days are numbered. He has only been sidelined this long by choice. When he was sacked by PSG, French media outlet L'Equipe reported he was given a €22 million severance package. Blanc can afford to wait on the right job. All signs indicate one or more ideal position will be vacated this summer. Expect to see him back in the technical area in the fall.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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