Can Bordeaux’s finest mature enough to take the United reins?

Laurent BlancWhen sometime in the future Sir Alex Ferguson decides to retire from his position of Manchester United manager, there will no doubt be massive speculation as to who will succeed one of the most successful managers in football history. Recent mutterings from Jose Mourinho have suggested that he would one day like to return to English football, and the press have put two and two together to speculate that Mourinho will be Ferguson’s most likely successor. There is great deal of common sense to this argument, a return to English football would mean a return to a top English club and there is no bigger club in England than Manchester United. Such conjecture really masks the real question: who does Sir Alex want to succeed him? Ferguson will definitely have a big say in who the next manager will be, his experience and knowledge of football is second to none and United would be foolish not to ask him.

Who you ask would he want as his replacement? The most likely answer is Laurent Blanc. For although Fergie has tremendous respect for Mourinho and what he has done in his management career so far, Ferguson is great admirer of the Frenchman, both in his time as a player and now as a manager. Ferguson tried to sign Blanc three times no less as a player before he finally got his man in 2001. During his two year stay at Old Trafford, Blanc became a sort of apprentice figure for Ferguson, having regular talks about tactics and coaching methods. Blanc was near the end of an illustrious playing career when he joined the Manchester club and was already thinking about coaching. A genuine mutual admiration was felt between the pair and such respect has lasted until this day. Ferguson has already tried to bring Blanc to Old Trafford twice as Assistant Manager, once after Carlos Queiroz departure for Portugal in August 2008 and the second time last January.

It is no real surprise that Blanc has resisted the advances of United and Ferguson though, as he his having a fantastic time managing his first club Bordeaux back in France. He has had a terrific start to his managerial career. In his first year he guided the ailing French club to second in the French league, picking up the French Manager of the Year in the process. Last year things got even better as he won French Ligue One, beating perennial champions Lyon to the title and winning Bordeaux’s first league championship in ten years. Success has continued during his third year in the job as the French side sit at the top of the league with 28 points from 14 games, 2 points ahead of Lyon. His success as a manager has been translated from his time as a player where as captain he won the World Cup and the European Championships with France. As a manager he has both tactical astuteness and an eye for a good player, similarities to another French manager, a French journalist said recently to the BBC about Blanc:

He’s cultured, intelligent, but a little bit cold. You can’t compare him exactly with Arsene Wenger but there are similarities.

His abilities to find good players has been the cornerstone of his success in Bordeaux, the acquisition of French star Yoann Gourcuff from AC Milan was a tremendous coup and has been a main reason why the French Club have pushed up to the top of the table. Blanc’s tactical abilities are not just confined to the domestic league however and he has qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League this season ahead of more illustrious clubs Juventus and Bayern Munich. The Frenchmen no doubt has talent and at the age of 44 is exactly the same age Ferguson was when he took over United in 1986.

There does however seem to be a stumbling block in a smooth transition from Ferguson to the next manager. There is no real certainty when he will go and Blanc has other potential suitors on the horizon. With Jose Mourinho under pressure at Inter, club president Massimo Moratti may want a former player such as Blanc at the helm who plays more attacking football. A more immediate and present danger to Manchester United’s advances would be the French National team. Raymond Domenech has effectively been a lame duck since his abject failure with France in Euro 2008 and speaking before France qualified for the World Cup, a French journalist commented to the BBC:

I can’t see him leaving Bordeaux in December (if France did fail to qualify), that’s not the way I would imagine Blanc would do things, but next summer would be the ideal time for him to move across to the national team.

It is a very possible appointment for Blanc but the Frenchman seems to have a very clear direction in which he wants his managerial career to go in. Manchester United seems to be an ideal destination for him, a feeling shared by Ferguson who believes that Blanc would be a worthy successor for he not only admires his tremendous tactical knowledge, but also believes he would uphold the core traditions of Manchester United, continuing a style of football and encouraging youth development which the Scot has extolled during his tenure at the club. The sale of Gabriel Obertan from Bordeaux to Manchester United is a case in point. Helped by Blanc through the youth ranks, Ferguson appeared to trust the Frenchman’s recommendation of the player and he was duly transferred to United. This trust in Blanc’s player knowledge seems to indicate a great respect for his managerial abilities. Whether this will lead the former French captain to Old Trafford in the coming years is another question. He has only recently signed a new deal to stay at Bordeaux but Blanc expressed back in January, when chased by Ferguson for a second time, that:

My ideal career path would be to start in France, then manage abroad, and then return to head the French national team.

He has started in France, it may just be time soon that he manages abroad, whether that will be at Manchester United is the question on United fans’ lips.