Laurent Blanc has never tried to hide his admiration for Spanish football. The one season he spent in Spain – playing for Sir Bobby Robson's FC Barcelona in 1996/97 – was not an overwhelming success, yet the Spanish and Italian speaker clearly developed affinities for the country and has seized every opportunity to return to Camp Nou since.
Many long hours have been whiled away observing training sessions at La Masia or poring over Barça matches with France's video analyst, Thierry Marszalek. With the French Football Federation (FFF) currently introducing reforms in the training methods that are implemented at Clairefontaine, Blanc has contributed to discussions, helping the director of football, François Blaquart, put the Spanish-influenced coaching revolution in place.
"I love watching Spain and in particular Barcelona," the former Olympique de Marseille, Manchester United FC and FC Internazionale Milano defender told us earlier this week. "Their style is something we're trying to aspire to in France. It can't be adopted overnight, though, and for the moment we are a long, long way behind."
Blanc's admission may surprise some on the eve of Les Bleus' UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-final against La Roja. Do not be fooled, however. He is not ready to throw in the towel. It's just that Blanc knows France are not yet ready to try to beat the defending champions at their own game. He knows that if Franck Ribéry and Co try to out-'tiki-taka' Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fàbregas, there will only be one winner.
"We usually try to focus on our own game as much as possible, but this time we'll have to adapt to our opponents," Blanc conceded at tonight's press conference. In other words, attacking midfielders like Samir Nasri, Ribéry, Hatem Ben Arfa, Mathieu Valbuena and Jérémy Ménez – depending on Blanc's selection – will be asked to work their socks off when Spain have the ball, especially in the early stages. "We know if we defend well and remain compact for the first 20 to 30 minutes, then we may have a chance," Blanc stressed.
As a connoisseur and lover of the Spanish game, Blanc is under no illusions. He laughed when a Spanish journalist asked if he thought criticism of Vicente del Bosque's team is justified: "Personally, I'd never criticise the way this Spain side plays because I love watching them." Yet for all his flattering words, Blanc knows that if France can defend well enough, they too have players capable of hurting the world champions on the counterattack.
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