PARIS, June 5 (Reuters) - Laurent Blanc will be trying to restore France’s reputation at the European Championship.
The former world and European champion was named France coach in the aftermath of their dismal 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa, where France recorded two defeats and one draw, with the players staging a strike to support Nicolas Anelka after he was kicked out of the squad for insulting then coach Raymond Domenech.
Blanc was dubbed “the president” during his glorious years as a player yet it remains to be seen whether Euro 2012 will also serve as his bid for re-election.
He has been at the France helm for two years and his contract may be extended should Les Bleus perform well. There is no guarantee of that, however, but hopes remain high even though they failed to win a single game in the Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup finals.
Moreover, while French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet wants to see how France’s Euro campaign unfolds, Blanc himself has been linked by the media to several top European clubs. His CV though has certainly been boosted by the way things have improved since 2010.
With one relatively easy looking friendly to play, against Estonia in Le Mans, France were unbeaten in 20 matches since September 2010 and that run will be extended to 21 games if they avoid an unlikely defeat against Estonia.
Blanc has certainly steadied the ship after the FFF spent almost a million euros to fire Domenech, with the 46-year-old signing a two-year deal with the objective of leading France to Euro 2012.
Blanc is a discreet, almost secretive figure, who takes a forensic approach to his job, considering every angle, but maintains a distance from his players.
His awkward statement on the need to have fewer tall, powerful Africa-born players stirred strong criticism and accusations of veiled racism, including from his former team mates Lilian Thuram and Patrick Vieira.
Yet following a slow start - France lost their opening qualifier at home to Belarus - he completed his mission in leading his country to the finals in Poland and Ukraine and asked for his contract to be renewed until the 2014 World Cup.
Blanc has long wanted the France’s job, having previously sought it in 2004, when Domenech was eventually picked.
As a player, he was a symbol of a successful France side, which benefitted from the centre back’s composure and technical ability as well as leadership skills which earned him the nickname “the president”.
He was part of the France team that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, albeit he missed the 1998 final because of suspension.
His club career brought mixed fortunes. After he turned professional with Montpellier in the late 1980s, Blanc moved to Napoli, then to lowly Nimes and St Etienne. He had to wait until 1996 and a French League and Cup double with Auxerre to enjoy real prominence.
Even after that he struggled to make an impact at Barcelona before earning plaudits towards the end of his career at Marseille, Inter Milan and Manchester United.
Blanc established his reputation as a coach with success in his first job at Bordeaux, whom he led to the Ligue 1 title in his second year in charge.
But his appointment as France coach followed a mediocre season with Bordeaux, which left some ex-coaches and players questionning his ability to manage in hard times.
A successful Euro campaign might help silence those critics, whatever the future holds for him afterwards. (Editing by Simon Hart/Mike Collett)