What do you do when the most exciting striker in Europe hasn’t played for a couple of weeks?
When it’s a Champions League night, but the opposition, Anderlecht, were beaten 5-0 in the last match – and could well be beaten easily again.
For the French press on Tuesday, the answer was simple. It’s time for the coach of the team – the manager that is, not the matchday transport – to get a bit of love and attention.
Laurent Blanc was somewhat of a surprise selection by the paymasters of Paris Saint-Germain when he took over in the summer.
He had been out of work for a year since a limp performance in charge of France at Euro 2012, and the expectation was that the Qatar Investment Authority would want someone with a bit more flash to lead their growing lineup of stars.
But Blanc it was who was chosen to replace Carlo Ancelotti, who won PSG’s first title in 19 years (with a bit of help from a lot of cash) but with whom the club hierarchy had never truly been in love.
Well, they’re loving Blanc.
The World Cup-winning defender has gone from kissing Fabien Barthez’s head all those years ago to being the darling of the French capital – at least from Tuesday, by appearances.
You might previously have thought that Zlatan Ibrahimovic was in charge of the team given the coverage he receives in France (in fact, Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp said this week he would give the Swede his parking space if he signed for the Germans).
‘Ibra! Ibra! Ibra! Ibra!‘
But even Ibra – whose nickname was repeated four times in L’Équipe‘s headline two weeks ago for each of the goals he scored against Anderlecht – made way in the pages of France’s definitive sports newspaper for the lavish space given to Blanc, ahead of a Group C match that could see PSG qualify for the Last 16.
“The President who wins” was the front page, emblazoned over an image of Blanc gazing benevolently through his spectacles at his players. Blanc has been known as Le Président since his Marseille days, but the headline may have given Francois Hollande momentary concern.
The praise is fair, and rarely lavished on an incumbent so early in his tenure. Blanc has taken PSG unbeaten to the top of Ligue 1 after 12 games, with a perfect record in the Champions League, and playing an exciting yet pragmatic style of football that has given Ibrahimovic free reign to score the kind of unlikely goals that he relishes.
|Blanc had an unsuccessful spell with France after leading Bordeaux to the Ligue 1 title in 2009 [Reuters]|
“Very strong in possession, never having the mentality of having done enough or of arrogance, and never an excess of individuality – that state of mind is the great contribution of Laurent Blanc and his staff,” Alain Roche, the former Paris and France defender, told L’Équipe as part of the paper’s double-page spread on Blanc – with Anderlecht getting some space in the bottom-right corner.
It’s nice that a manager can get this genuinely warm coverage for a change, even though it has to be on a relatively “slow” news day against weak opposition.
The position isn’t one disposed to having a good relationship with the press. Win matches – well, that’s your job. Lose a match – what went wrong? Is this the start of a bad run? Will the owner get restless and make a change?
And of course there’s the Chelsea approach, where a manager is only responsible for a win if the fans don’t hate the manager, like with Europa League-winning Rafael Benitez last year (sorry Chelsea fans – I mean the man who watched from the dugout as the players won the Europa League last year).
A particularly memorable occasion was when the former Ghana coach Claude Le Roy, coaching Oman at the Gulf Cup in 2009, was asked why his team had such a bad defence. Their record in the tournament at that point was: won three, scored six, conceded none. They went on to lift the trophy without letting in a goal.
Laurent Blanc, of course, won’t care what is being written about him. But the rest of us can savour a rare celebration of successful management – until the results start going against him and the press give him a slightly less flattering nickname.
PSG aren’t the only ones who can seal Champions League progress on Tuesday.
Real Madrid also have nine points as they take on badly-faltering Juventus in Group B, while Gareth Bale has another opportunity to stop the questions about whether he was worth the world-record fee Real paid for him in the summer. Two goals last week against Sevilla have calmed those queries for the moment.
European champions Bayern Munich are also perfect in Group D as they take on Viktoria Plzen in the Czech Republic, three points ahead of Manchester City who have their return match against CSKA Moscow.
Manchester United can move a step closer to qualification if they beat Real Sociedad in Spain, which would also move manager David Moyes a bit closer to those nice headlines.
Paul Rhys is a sports correspondent and presenter writing for Al Jazeera from Paris.
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