It is not necessary for a coach to have been a great player in order to succeed at the highest level. José Mourinho is living proof of that. Yet Laurent Blanc is confident his immense experience as a player will aid him in his attempt to restore France to the summit of the world game.
The former FC Internazionale Milano and Manchester United FC defender enjoyed a magnificent club career, although his greatest achievements came in the blue of France. Blanc was an integral member of the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship-winning teams of 1998 and 2000. The 44-year-old earned 97 caps, wearing the armband on eight occasions, and is now honoured to be leading Les Bleus in their latest EURO campaign.
"The position of national team coach is a job that everyone dreams of having," Blanc told UEFA.com. "You are serving your country, representing your nation. The national team was always very important in my playing career, and it is similar in my coaching career. To become France coach is an honour and I have accepted this position with a lot of pride."
Blanc may have landed his dream job but he suffered a nightmare start. In his first competitive match, France were humbled by Belarus in Paris on 3 September. Losing at the Stade de France, where the hosts had lifted the world crown in 1998 and recorded an 11-year unbeaten run, was particularly galling for the man known as 'Le Président'.
"I think the defeat in Paris was very difficult to overcome," reflected the former FC Girondins de Bordeaux trainer, "because even though we did not play fantastically, we did not deserve to lose. The players were aware we had made the worst possible start."
Setbacks, however, are part of the game, and there was no chance of Blanc panicking. He sought to reassure his players. "You have to tell them you have confidence in this squad because you selected it. You have to tell them that you think we were better than Belarus in that game, but that in football it's not always the best team that wins."
France have struggled in recent times yet Blanc himself experienced a sticky patch in the mid-1990s as a talented new generation took time to bed in. His aim is to kick-start a fresh cycle of success for the French. "When there's a transitional problem, there's often a generational problem," the Ales native explained. "We are trying to start again with a new generation, with some good players who are not yet great players."
Les Bleus failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1990 and 1994 before establishing a team that possessed the skill and spirit to conquer all. Blanc recalls the "perfect team spirit" of the late 90s side, saying: "There were players who were great stars for their respective clubs, but who were also there at the team's disposal when they played for France.
We need to rediscover some values we have lost in the French national team."
Blanc is convinced his immense know-how at the highest level will help him get the best out of the current crop. "It allows me to have personal experience to share with the French players who are at the top clubs abroad," said the ex-FC Barcelona, Olympique de Marseille and SSC Napoli centre-back. "For many reasons it gives me a certain credibility with the players. So when I have discussions with some players, I can tell them: 'I experienced what you are talking about, so I can speak to you about it, I can help you.'"
The message seemed to register in Sarajevo, where France beat Group D rivals Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0 in their second UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier. Blanc affords himself a smile when asked about his side's stirring display. "We needed a big reaction four days after [losing to Belarus] in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who are still the most dangerous team in the group. The players were aware that we already had our backs against the wall. I think they answered [the critics] in the best possible way."
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