Laurent Blanc instilled a sense of solidarity into his players which proved crucial in Bordeaux’s title success.
By Howard Johnson in Paris
The King is dead. Long live The President! After seven consecutive Ligue 1 championships in France, Lyon have finally relinquished the title to Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux. The legendary former French defender, nicknamed ‘Le President’ for his leadership qualities on the field as a player, has proved to be no less inspirational in his first role as a manager.
Blanc arrived on the west coast of France just two seasons ago and with his highly-rated Number Two, the experienced Jean-Louis Gasset, acting as consigliore, has delivered the biggest prize in French football at just the second time of asking.
The scenes in the city after Bordeaux clinched the title on an emotional day in the Northern town of Caen proved just how much it meant to the people. Around 80,000 folk took to the streets to celebrate the first league title for the ‘marine et blanc’ in a decade. 15,000 bleary-eyed folk then crammed into the Place des Quinconces the following day to celebrate in glorious sunshine with the players and management.
Blanc has fully justified the faith Bordeaux president Jean-Louis Triaud showed in giving him his first shot at management with such a high-profile club. It was a gamble, of course, but a gamble that’s paid huge dividends, with Blanc pulling off a unique treble that has never before been achieved in French football by landing the league title, the League Cup and the Champions Trophy (the French Charity Shield).
Lyon were dispatched on penalties in the season curtain raiser and second division Vannes were soundly beaten 4-0 in the League Cup at the end of April. But it was Bordeaux’ 1-0 win away at Caen on the final day of the Ligue 1 season – a result that gave Bordeaux the title but also relegated Caen – that secured Blanc’s sweetest triumph.
“The title isn’t just about my personal pleasure,” explained the likeable Blanc once the famous Hexagonal trophy had been secured. “It’s for everyone; from the supporters to the directors and everyone in-between. And it’s reward for all the hard work that everyone has put in over the last two years. The players have come on in leaps and bounds.”
Indeed they have. Bordeaux went from strength to strength as the season went on, showing more cohesion, more technical ability and crucially more heart with each week that went by. After a 3-0 wake-up call defeat away at Toulouse on March 7, Bordeaux then went on a remarkable run of 11 straight victories to take the title with a three-point advance on Marseilles and an impressive nine over third-placed Lyon.
“Laurent Blanc and Jean-Louis Gasset have brought a real footballing philosophy, a joie de vivre and total harmony to the dressing room,” explained right back Matthieu Chalmé, one of the side’s acknowledged leaders. “We won this title thanks to a strategy of stability and building for the long-term.”
Indeed so. Blanc has managed to instil a sense of real solidarity in a team that was perhaps the single most important factor in giving Bordeaux the edge over their rivals, who all had far more turbulent seasons behind the scenes. You always felt that this was a tight-knit group and that players like the impressive striker Marouane Chamakh, influential Brazilian midfielder Wendel and veteran goalkeeper and skipper Ulrich Ramé were all pulling in the same direction. It’s a title that’s a triumph of solidarity.
Of course there’s still no denying that the star of the team is international midfielder Yoann Gourcuff, who arrived before the start of the season on a year-long loan from Milan and gave Bordeaux a leader with the necessary class to compete at the top of the pile. The fact that Gourcuff has now opted to stay at the club – signing a four-year deal – is proof positive that the ambition is there to build on this year’s success. And with Blanc at the helm there’s no reason why Bordeaux can’t go from strength to strength.