Blanc rebuilding France team after WC fiasco

Laurent Blanc knew turning around the France team after its
humiliating exit from the World Cup would not be easy but he was
still caught off guard by the size of the task before him.

The damage to France’s image under its unpopular former coach
Raymond Domenech was huge, and the team’s confidence was shredded
by dreadful results that were magnified by a public players’ strike
at the World Cup that shocked the nation.

A graceful defender, Blanc won a World Cup and a European
Championship, but nothing from those days – or his short time as
Bordeaux coach – prepared him for the stark lack of options he
faced with the national side.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Blanc says he hoped
to have a core of players he could build the new team around, but
the World Cup fiasco showed him how barren of talent the national
side was.

“The hardest thing for me after South Africa was, of course, the
image we presented, which hurt us and still hurts us. But what
troubled me even more were the results,” Blanc told the AP. “We
could have had an average World Cup like other teams, and through
these matches seen a hard core forming within the team … four of
five players who stand out. But this wasn’t the case.”

Instead, Blanc says he was forced to start from scratch.

“People say we’re in a rebuilding period, I’m sorry but we’re in
a building period,” Blanc said at the French Football Federation’s
Paris headquarters. “That’s the hard thing about the task because
it takes longer. And we don’t have time.”

Things have started to improve in Blanc’s five months in charge.
France leads its European Championship qualifying group after
consecutive wins against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania and
Luxembourg. He hopes Wednesday’s match against England at Wembley,
and February’s game against Brazil, provide further signs of
improvement.

He is also acutely aware, however, of France’s fragile
confidence.

He need only look back two months, when France began Euro 2012
qualifying with an embarrassing 1-0 home defeat to Belarus.

The clumsy way the side conceded a sloppy late goal shocked
Blanc because “they were resigned (to their fate).”

Blanc played in a defense that also featured Marcel Desailly,
Lilian Thuram and Bixente Lizarazu – a unit which conceded two
goals in seven games en route to World Cup glory in 1998.

They rarely conceded soft goals, leaving Blanc dejected to see
France’s current defenders lacking similar cohesiveness.

“The ones who must earn the draw are the guys at the back.
They’re the warriors,” Blanc said. “But … we were sheep.

“We were guilty of naivety, a lack of aggression. You can’t be
like that if you want to be a competitive team. You should never
accept things, never, ever accept defeat.”

France lost two games at the World Cup, and drew the other 0-0.
The team compounded its failure by going on a public training
ground strike in protest over the FFF’s decision to send home
Chelsea forward Nicolas Anelka for insulting Domenech.

The outcry from fans and politicians in France was enormous.

Blanc said fans deserve straight answers they never got during
the summer, and wants his players to become ambassadors again.

“The image the French team gave in South Africa was lamentable,”
said Blanc, who has so far been warmly received by the country’s
notoriously impatient fans who appear to appreciate his
honesty.

“People see that we have this desire, and that’s our first
victory,” Blanc said. “People know that we are not acting.”

Blanc learned about straight-talking from Alex Ferguson when he
played for Manchester United at the end of his career.

“(Ferguson) always had an honest and direct way of talking.
Respectful, but very clear,” Blanc said. “People can’t reproach you
for being direct or for telling the truth. It’s the same for
everyone … even if you have to understand each (player) to find
out what makes him tick.”

For inspiration on the field, Blanc also looks up to Barcelona
manager Pep Guardiola and his gifted attacking foursome of Lionel
Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and David Villa.

“Everyone wants to play like Barca, but who is capable of that?”
Blanc asked. “A lot of managers share the same philosophy as Pep
Guardiola … OK, but players like Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Villa. Who
has them?”

Blanc’s ambition is to see France once again play with
panache.

“We have a philosophy, we know what direction we want to take,”
he said.

But he faces a big task after France’s youth set-up, once the
envy of the football world, fell behind that of Spain, which won
the World Cup this year and the European Championship in 2008.

“It’s great to say ‘we will develop a playing style’ but you’re
not going to get it just like that,” says Blanc, snapping his
fingers. “You can do it in the way you form players, which bears
fruit in seven, eight, nine, or 10 years.”

France’s problem may be the 44-year-old Blanc’s ambition as
evidenced by his limited tenure with Bordeaux, where he stayed for
just three years.

Asked what his long-term plans are for France, Blanc is
evasive.

“For a start, they’re not long term. The objective is to qualify
for Euro 2012,” he said. “I’ve learned to revise my future
predictions. In sport, in football in particular, things can go
very quickly one way or another.”

He makes no secret, however, of wanting to coach in the Premier
League.

“Yes, it would interest me,” he said. “I have a few years to
work on my English, because it’s not great … It’s a
disaster!”