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!”