Laurent Blanc's list of honours is enough to make most footballers drool. In 97 outings for his country, the cool-headed defender struck 16 goals, lifted the FIFA World Cup™ in 1998 and tasted glory at UEFA EURO 2000, having earlier conquered the European continent with the Under-21s. He also collected an impressive haul of medals at club level, winning championships in France and England, two French Cups, a UEFA European Cup Winners' Cup, a Spanish Supercup and even a second-division title with French outfit Montpellier. All in all, 'the President', as his team-mates called him, can lay claim to being one of the modern game's true defensive greats.
It should come as no surprise that Blanc feels he has a lot of experience to pass on, and since his playing career ended he has harboured just one desire: to become a coach. Having obtained the necessary qualifications with typical panache, the former centre-back has nonetheless had to wait his chance for the right opportunity to come along. Both Marseille and France knocked him back, judging him untested in the role, but his dream finally came true this summer as he took over the reins at Girondins de Bordeaux.
Just over a month into the job, he spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his new life and the crucial period of preparation ahead of next season, as well as reflecting on his glorious past.
FIFA.com: Laurent, how is pre-season training going at
Laurent Blanc: My staff and I planned out a pretty serious workload for the first three weeks and I'm happy because the lads have responded to it with seriousness, discipline and a lot of desire too. Because of that, I've absolutely no complaints to make about my squad. It's been tough since we started training but we'll all feel the benefits throughout the season.
You recently made it known you hoped club officials would
speed things up on the transfer front. What are your priorities in
terms of new players?
My discussions with the president are ongoing because there are a few matters that still need to be settled. But I won't hide the fact that our main priority is still a central defender. After that, we'll need two or three more players if we hope to be competitive.
How damaging has it been for Bordeaux to lose two French
internationals in Julien Faubert (West Ham) and Rio Antonio Mavuba
There's no point denying it: when you lose two guys with that kind of talent your team obviously ends up weaker. And it's not easy to replace them either. But as for the two players in question, I tried to speak to them in sporting terms, outlining how our project here would be beneficial for their career paths. They made another choice and acted upon it. By bringing in Matthieu Chalme [from Lille], I think we've got the position of right-back covered, which is where Faubert spent a lot of last year. Now we just have to find a defensive midfielder to replace Rio.
You have extended the contracts of quite a few of the
club's key players, including Marc Planus, Marouane Chamakh and
David Jemmali. Is it important for you to keep continuity?
This squad has proven its quality over the last two seasons, so it was hugely important to hold on to players who know the club and the people around it, and who can act as relays and leaders within the team. As soon as I arrived, I did what I could to get certain players to commit themselves to the Girondins de Bordeaux for a bit longer and to keep the roles they've made their own over the past few seasons.
Do you have a better idea now of what your team is capable
(Sighs) I'm like all coaches: I'll do the best I can with the team I'm given. Leaving aside clubs like Marseille and Lyon, who were already strong before the transfer window opened and will be at least as good next term, we're hardly alone in leaving things a bit late on the recruitment front. And your ability to get people talking about you in the summer has little to do with how good you are. But I'll say it again: the Bordeaux squad already has plenty of quality. If we manage to attract two or three very good players, I think we can have a good season. And who knows? Maybe we can be the league's surprise package. That's what I'm hoping for anyway.
You must hardly be able to wait for the season to start, so
that you can sit down in the dugout for your first competitive
Competitive games are what it's all about: they're the reason you prepare and suffer. That's mainly true for the players, but also for the staff because you always have to rack your brains to find the player who would be a valuable addition to the team. But still, this period of preparation is valuable for the players and all the clubs. It's only now that you can 'fill the tank', if you'll allow the expression. As soon as the season gets underway, there's be no time left and the most important thing is always to recover (between matches).
Would you say you are still learning the ropes from
day-to-day as a coach?
You know, if coaching is about putting the cones out before training, choosing a couple of teams and saying 'it's six against six and I want you to do your best', then I didn't need to get my diplomas. The thing that makes the difference is footballing knowledge: technical and tactical skills. As far as I'm concerned, only a coach's experience as a player can give him that. But coaching is above all an issue of managing people, and the guy who's best able to manage his squad is the one who'll become a good coach. So many things are asked of us these days, including being good communicators, that every coach has his weak points. And that's where the role of the technical staff becomes crucial. A coach must always be able to rely on good assistants.
Because of your achievements as a player, you are much in
demand with the media. Is that difficult for you to manage with
regards to your squad?
I'm not going to hide it; it's not always easy. But that's part of the job. The most important thing is that the lads understand we're all in this together. We're all in the same boat and want to have the best season possible. There's no room for personal ambitions.
Your name alone raises expectations. Do you think it can
help the players to see how you inspire such interest from the
If it only serves to take some of the pressure off my squad, I'm all for it. Expectations are high, that's for sure. And that's precisely why I can't keep repeating it enough that Bordeaux need the players to match their ambitions. When we start our second training camp (23-28 July), I really hope to have my final squad and just a couple of details to resolve in terms of the team. There's no secret: we have to be ready by 4 August!
Do you think it was your vocation to become a
Deep down inside, I've always wanted to know what this job consisted of. Now I know, or at least I'm starting to know. Over the last few weeks, the days have been short and so have the nights. But it's interesting... very exciting even. That said, I know I'll never be judged on the work I do. I'll be judged on the results my team manages to get on the pitch, and I'd like to believe that when you work hard the results follow. That's what I'm trying to do, anyway.
As you start out on this new career, does it make you feel
that your playing days are well and truly over?
My career as a player has been over for a long time and I got over that ages ago. I knew it was over the day of my last match before retiring. I was lucky enough to have a long career and I quit at 38 years of age. I experienced highs and lows and, when I called it a day, I really felt like I'd done all there was to do. I'd taken myself as far as I could go and I had nothing left to give.
Do you think it is significant that the two emblematic
figures of France's 1998 generation - yourself and Didier
Deschamps - have now become coaches?
Perhaps that was to be expected. It's true that Didier and I have always been curious and we always asked our coaches questions. We were never simply interested in the game alone and that's part of our character. We undoubtedly felt a calling to become coaches.
On the subject of the 1998 generation, what do you make of
how things are going for Fabien Barthez and Lilian Thuram, the only
members of that famous defence still active?
Having known him for a long time, I'm really not at all surprised to see Lilian still playing at the highest level at 35. On the other hand, it saddens me that Fabien has been unable to find a challenge suited to his talents, as I'm sure he's got another two great years in him. But now we're talking about the past. That generation was without doubt exceptional, but their place has been taken by players at least as talented. It's time for the youngsters to take over! This is a great moment for French football.
Players always love to set themselves career targets. Have
you set yourself any objectives as a coach?
To enjoy it as much as possible. I know it's not going to be easy but that's my one and only goal.