Blanc's Bordeaux rise to the occasion
Monday, March 15, 2010
As FC Girondins de Bordeaux prepare to face Olympiacos FC for a quarter-final place, Laurent Blanc says his side have shed the "complex" that once dogged them against Europe's elite.
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Having repeatedly turned heads with audacious group-stage feats, FC Girondins de Bordeaux are being talked of in some quarters as potential outsiders to lift the UEFA Champions League trophy.
As they look to seal their passage to the quarter-finals, coach Laurent Blanc maintained they have shed the "complex" that once dogged them against Europe's biggest sides. Olympiacos FC stand in their way on Wednesday but will need a sterling effort at the Stade Chaban-Delmas after Michaël Ciani's header gave the French champions a 1-0 success in Greece three weeks ago.
That result, achieved at a notoriously difficult venue for visiting teams, provided further indication that Blanc's men have come of age in the competition this season. Ever since drawing 1-1 at Juventus on Matchday 1, they have looked a different proposition to the side visibly in awe of Chelsea FC during a 4-0 reverse at the start of last year's tournament.
"That first Juventus game was very important for Bordeaux," explained Blanc. "It wasn't just away but against one of Europe's greatest teams, and it showed the players, the staff, the club and the fans that we could have our say in the group stage.
"We went to Turin with a lot of desire, with the desire to cause Juventus problems, with the desire to play to our strengths and, above all, not feel what French clubs often feel against these big famous clubs – a certain fragility, a certain complex. In that first game, my players managed to lose their complexes, play their game and make the best of their chances.
"Taking a point in Turin set us up in the competition and gave us belief, and I think that belief helped us in the games that followed," Blanc added, referring in particular to Bordeaux's home win against the Bianconeri and the pair of victories over FC Bayern München that helped them top Group A with the highest points haul of the group stage.
With such scalps under Les Girondins' belt, some are wondering how far Blanc's charges can go. "In a cup competition, and even the Champions League, a lot of things can happen," he went on. "The last four teams are often the same and you can name them in advance, but there could be a surprise.
"I'm not saying Bordeaux will provide that surprise, but it could be another club. We need to savour what we've achieved so far, play with the quality we have, try to minimise our weaknesses, and, above all, play with the same desire we've shown since the beginning of this competition."
That clear approach epitomises the mentality Blanc has brought into his burgeoning career in the dugout, in this, the former France defender's third season at Bordeaux – his first coaching assignment. Tipped for great things in his new vocation, the 44-year-old nonetheless had to wait for a chance to prove his worth after hanging up his boots in 2003.
"I was interested in coaching even as a player, and when I retired that interest became greater," he said. "I tried to put together all the experiences I'd had as a player, to get some order in my head. The break I had from football also gave me a chance to learn more about management and, even if there are no guarantees, I'm finding it very useful."
Also helpful were the lessons Blanc learned from his former bosses, with Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United FC – where Blanc played from 2001 to 2003 – a strong influence. "He's one of the people who've given me ideas," said the man known as Le Président in his playing days. "I have notebooks dedicated to [United] and to ideas and ways of managing that I took from my two years in Manchester, which I'm using at Bordeaux." Needless to say, the pupil would relish the opportunity to show the master how many of those lessons he has heeded.