Laurent Blanc participated in three UEFA European Championships as a player, winning the tournament in 2000, yet the Frenchman is a novice when it comes to coaching at a major competition. With France's enticing Group D opener against England looming, the 46-year-old tells UEFA.com about his hopes for the coming weeks and why he is relishing the chance to pit his tactical wits against some of football's shrewdest minds.
UEFA.com: France have been in good form in the warm-up games, winning three out of three. What positives can you take from them?
Laurent Blanc: In the first game we produced a positive reaction because we went 2-0 down against Iceland who scored from two counterattacks and made life difficult for us. We won in the last few minutes, which proves the lads want to win and have the right mindset. Serbia was difficult but we still imposed our style for an hour and that was encouraging. Then against Estonia we delivered a good, promising team performance from an attacking point of view.
UEFA.com: Franck Ribéry was outstanding in those matches. How much does his resurgence mean to you having stuck by him through difficult times?
Laurent Blanc: Everyone knows Franck Ribéry has talent. What really annoyed French people – and I can understand them – is that he was performing well with [FC] Bayern München but had problems with the national team. He lacked confidence because of what happened in the past and wasn't playing simply enough. We've tried to give him confidence again. But you have to be patient. We knew he could be an important player. Since the beginning of the training camp his attitude has been impeccable. He's regained the confidence he was lacking. That's really good, first and foremost for him, but also for France.
UEFA.com: France have arrived here in great spirits. Do you consider that almost like a first victory?
Laurent Blanc: It's important, yes. Our wish is to build a team that wins matches but also conveys a good image. We feel we are creating something and when I meet people they tell me they sense we are moving in the right direction. But as I keep telling my players, people will sense that even more if we win more games.
UEFA.com: How do you assess your first opponents, England?
Laurent Blanc: They have some issues, but which national team doesn't? They've had a few injuries, but we're missing four or five players too. They also had a problem with [Fabio Capello] leaving, but despite that I know the English really well and I know they'll be ready on 11 June. They'll be especially determined because they have a generation of players who haven't achieved results that reflect their quality. This may be their last chance to shine at a major tournament. On top of that they're playing the French. France versus England is always very difficult, tough and rigorous. It's a special game and Monday will not be any different.
UEFA.com: France also play Ukraine and Sweden. What do you think of Group D?
Laurent Blanc: Yesterday I looked at the FIFA rankings. It's a very even group. Every team has a chance so they're going to be tight matches. All four groups are difficult, especially Group B. This is why many players and coaches think it's harder to get out of the group at a European Championship than at a World Cup.
UEFA.com: You've said that if France make it through the group but play mediocre football you would not be fully satisfied. Is that still the case?
Laurent Blanc: Yes. Results are important, but I give a lot of importance to the way we play because I love to see my team play nice football. That was the case for me as a player, too, because there's the satisfaction of giving joy to people. The first thing is to win, that's obvious. But if you can win and enjoy playing, that's great. We've been trying our best for some time. I know people lack patience, but we're getting there. There have been some massive improvements over the last two years. Sometimes we lack the consistency to be able to do it from the first minute until the last.
UEFA.com: This is your first major tournament as a coach. How different is the experience?
Laurent Blanc: It's completely different. When you’re a player you're in the middle of things – you think primarily about yourself. A coach thinks about his staff and squad before himself. It's a completely different mindset. But it's a great pleasure because I'm facing coaches who have a lot more experience than me at international level. There's a match between the coaches as well. We play our own little game.
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