Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Welcome Laurent Blanc - much work and opportunity ahead for Les Bleus

Laurent Blanc is officially on the job running the French national team, he will give his first press conference today at 11:00am Paris time. Let the healing and rebuilding begin. Clearly there is a monumental task ahead after a what can only be called a disastrous South African World Cup. However there is also great opportunity, why? With such a fiasco, so much conflict and so much shame, Blanc has a carte blanche to do what he sees fit. His honeymoon period will be much longer than any other manager's would have been. I already wrote some thoughts on what Blanc needs to focus on when this was first announced and there are plenty of other opinions being provided - good post from Ligue 1 blog. Of course much has changed since then, so here are some additional topics Blanc will need to deal with.

Clearly dealing with the South African fiasco has become the main theme. As will all managers of European nations, Blanc will need a 2 year plan with the Euros and World Cup tournaments alternating every 2 years. With qualifiers taking up 2 years a manager must have an understanding of which players they need to leverage for qualifiers and who will be the core to carry a team into the tournament. With this in mind some areas that will need to be addressed:

  • Clear house - every team needs to figure out which veterans still have enough to give, which players no longer fit the team strategy and which players to build around...this is has never been so important as for France. Blanc will need to determine what to do with those that were part of the mutiny in South Africa. There are clearly some players that will be self selected, due to age, as no longer internationals - Henry, Abidal, Gallas and Anelka (he already announced his retirement from international duty). However what to do about others, such as team captain - Patrice Evra? Some like former international Lilian Thuram have called for the Manchester United player to never wear the France jersey again.  Thuram is entitled to his opinion he earned that right from his playing career as well as his post career work for France and football in general. However that decision lies entirely with Laurent Blanc...not an easy one to make.
  • Ribery - Speaking of cleaning house...the Bayern man was rumored to be the chief bully in the French camp in particular targeting Gourcuff. If there is any truth to this it will be an interesting situation. Gourcuff played for Blanc at Bordeaux and clearly developed under the former French international tutelage. One could assume that there is a rapport already between Gourcuff and his new national team manager, could this mean that Blanc has received a more genuine overview of what took place? In addition Diarra and Carrasso, both from Bordeaux were also in South Africa - neither of which were implicated in the mutiny. But back to Ribery, clearly he remains a player of enormous talent and should be someone France would continue to build upon, however have his actions made him a cancer to the squad? Blanc will need to address this head on. For me Ribery needs to remain part of the squad and it is up to Blanc to sit down with him and clearly lay out the rules and ensure his authority is respected, which I have a feeling the Bayern winger will do.
  • Youth movement - It is not as if the team is old, but there is some talent in the youth ranks that needs to be considered. How does Blanc integrate these up and coming talents? With players such as Gonalons, Gameiro, Remy, Briand, Ait Fana, M'Vila, Sakho, Sissoko to name a few on the cusp of the A side, how will Blanc integrate some or all this talented youth into the national side.
  • Captain - Titi Henry is most likely headed to the sunset of his international career and Evra, regardless if he is called back to France, his captaincy is over. Could Blanc turn to the man that acted as his captain for Bordeaux? Alou Diarra - who did captain France for the ill fated last World Cup game. Problem is Diarra is not necessarily an undisputed starter for France. What about Lloris? Apparently he does not want the responsibility.Gourcuff, he remains too young and not sure he is a natural captain. Toulalan? He also seems to shun the captain's arm band. Much will depend on the system and who the pillars are for Les Bleus - that will drive who becomes the next captain.
  • Central defense - An area that Blanc should be very comfortable dealing with - determining and developing a solid central defensive pairing. Doubtful that the central defensive pairing will include either Gallas or Abidal. So
    it will be a fresh pairing. Will Blanc look to reintegrate Mexes into the mix? The AS Roma defender is 28 so could have 4 more good years at the top level. He has always been looked at with regards to being the next "Laurent Blanc." Maybe under the tutelage of the real Blanc he might achieve this goal. What about Ciani or Planus from Bordeaux? Clearly Blanc would have a lot of insight into his former players. How about Kaboul, Givet, Squillaci, Escude, or Koscielny (who could still showcase for Poland)? Of course what about the rumor that Toulalan is going to be slotted back as a central defender for Lyon, that would clearly give Blanc his first chip in central defense. My money would be on a combination of Squillaci/Toulalan/Mexes, with Ciani/Planus in the background. Long term I think you will see Kaboul and Sakho (from PSG) as the future central defensive players groomed by Blanc.
  • System - maybe this should have been the first bullet point, but what system will Blanc adopt for the national side? During his tenure at Bordeaux his fullbacks were very active in the attack, especially left back Tremoulinas (could make him an option at left back...granted France has a wealth of options at left back). Gourcuff also played a much deeper role in for his club and there was a lone striker in Chamakh usually supported by a secondary deep lying striker. Unlike Domenech, one would hope that Blanc demonstrates some flexibility and strategy when it comes to his formations depending on the situation and opponent. Unlike other nations, I think France will stick with a traditional back 4 and Blanc will most likely look for his fullbacks to push high up the pitch to give the team width. I could envision Blanc leveraging 1 pure holding player LDiarra/ADiarra/M'Vila/Gonalons/Sissoko with someone such as Diaby as the shouldering midfielder - who is more offensive. These two would support someone such as Gourcuff/Nasri/Ait Fana and a lone striker - Benzema/Gignac/Cisse/Gameiro/Hourau up front? Blanc does have some options at his disposal. Looking forward I would say the strength for Les Bleus lies in their midfield depth and wingers, they do not have a deep reserve of pure strikers available.
The dawn of a  new era will truly begin today. It will be interesting to see and hear what Laurent Blanc says during his press conference and how he addresses the questions, we all know are coming, around the mutiny in South Africa and the disarray that is surrounding the team. The next important date will be August 11th, Blanc's first game as manager for Les Bleus and who he selects will be very interesting indeed!

Allez les Bleus.


    philip said...

    I can't wait to see the new France. They will need to recover quick because they have a match in Bosnia soon and that defiantly will not be easy.

    Jean-Fran├žois said...

    Great post. What are your expectations for Norway - France in August?

    GFC said...

    @Jean-Francois I have not given too much thought about the upcoming Norway match, but you know I will do so! What are your early thoughts on that game?

    Jean-Fran├žois said...

    I certainly expect a win. I'd like to see Mexes, Nasri, and Benzema in the squad for sure.

    I remember in 98 when Zizou scored that goal against Norway..... I want more of that.

    GFC said...

    I think that Nasri will most likely be included in the squad. He had a very strong 2nd half for Arsenal last season and his exclusion from the World Cup squad was shocking. Benzema and Mexes, while I think will revert to their top shelf selves did not have great seasons, which might force Blanc to ponder whether or no he wants them in his first squad.

    It should be very interesting - does Blanc go with a youth movement players who have been on the fringe of the national side? Or does he lean on some veterans and looks to relaunch some of them as his core?