mardi 29 mars 2011

The Differences Between Blanc and Capello or: Why France Could Win Euro 2012

The suits at Lancaster Gate must be envious of their French counterparts. Since his tenure with les Bleus began, Laurent Blanc has conducted himself in precisely the manner it was hoped Fabio Capello would as manager of England. It mustn't be forgotten, however, that Blanc has held the role for a mere seven months; after which period Capello had enjoyed comparable success and was justifiably revered as the England team's latest great hope. Indeed, there are similarities in the way both men sought to quickly impose a fresh sense of discipline on their respective squads, and strong parallels can be drawn regarding the quality of the players at their disposal. Given a botched Euro 2012, Blanc would doubtless become as unpopular as Capello now appears to be.

For all the common ground mentioned above, there is at least as much that separates the two managers. It can be argued quite legitimately that Capello has nothing to lose at this stage of his career: his success in Milan and Madrid has long since assured a golden legacy. Sections of the British press would interpret his failure as confirmation that managing England is the "Impossible Job", and that English footballers are simply too ignorant to comprehend the demands of a sophisticated foreign coach. By contrast, Blanc is new to management. He overachieved in each of his three seasons at Bordeaux and drew admiring glances from a number of more prestigious European clubs. The fickleness of football - or of the people who run it - means that his hard-earned reputation won't remain in stasis. It's a truism that managers are often helpless participants in a game of snakes and ladders: a snake would lead Blanc to a long-term let in purgatory (with Raymond Domenech next door), while a ladder could lead to Old Trafford or the Bernabéu.

The fact that France have won trophies in recent memory heaps even greater pressure on Blanc. Although Domenech contrived to dramatically lower expectations, the French still expect more than we England fans who - let's face it - would be delighted with progression to the semi-final of a major tournament. For better or worse, Blanc will forever be emblematic of France's triumphs in 1998 and 2000. Anything less than a place in the last four of next summer's European Championship and Blanc will sense his medals turning into a noose. Of course, Blanc will find that being a national hero has its advantages. He is adored by the public and unanimously respected by a group of players who can vividly recall images of le Président in action on the pitch; who could forget the tender moments he shared with Fabien Barthez? Blanc has experienced first hand the life of a modern footballer: like Capello, he is a disciplinarian, but his image is that of a cool older brother as opposed to Grumpy Grandpa Fabio (or Weird Uncle Raymond).

The rapport Blanc enjoys with his squad should prove key to France's future performance. In his inaugural season at Lyon, Yoann Gourcuff has been a shadow of the player he was under Blanc at Bordeaux. If Gourcuff looks forward to international duty as a respite from his travails in Ligue 1, he's not alone. Whereas representing England is plainly an unwelcome distraction for many of Capello's charges; the likes of Gourcuff, Benzema and Ribéry are less satisfied with - and less engrossed in - life at their clubs and are therefore more likely to prioritise their sojourns with the national team.

The negativity and feuding that characterised Domenech's reign has been expunged. Blanc has enlisted a dynamic and sympathetic staff, including fellow World Cup winner Alain Boghossian as his number two (it was he who travelled to Manchester to patch things up with Patrice Evra) and Barthez in the unofficial capacity of training ground jester/assistant goalkeeping coach. Communication is among the new watchwords of the French setup. On that note, Capello would concede that Blanc was astute to generate a minumum of fuss over his choice of captain; uncontroversially, he plumped for monolithic midfielder Alou Diarra. Although Diarra's starting berth is no longer assured, Blanc's discretion and his warm relationship with the player in question (another Bordeaux man) should guard against disharmony if the armband is reassigned.

Add to all that the fact that Blanc is French and is paid a fraction of Capello's salary (approximately £1 million per year to Capello's £6 million), and two corrosive aspects of the Capello conundrum are instantly negated. Nonetheless, if France do ultimately surpass England, it would be wrong to blame Capello; and equally misguided to criticise the FA for employing him. It's lunacy to suggest that Capello is an inferior coach to Blanc. That said, while Capello remains the best of an adequate bunch of candidates, Blanc is exactly the right manager at exactly the right time for France.

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