Category: Europe

Typical isn’t it? A guy manages a team to 23 consecutive unbeaten games and then as soon as he gets linked to the Spurs job, he manages to lose two on the spin. Laurent Blanc has been widely acclaimed as one of the leading football managers around at the moment. His three years in charge of Bordeaux between 2007 and 2010 saw him win the league in his final season, setting a record for 11 consecutive wins at the end of that season. Having taken charge of France his first job was to suspend all 23 members of the World Cup squad that had embarrased themselves in the 2010 competition in South Africa, for his first game in charge. Blanc has been widely tipped as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor at Old Trafford and clearly he is held in high regard by his peers.

However, Blanc’s France were widely tipped to do well in Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012 yet a solitary win against Ukraine is all that they have to show for their efforts. A draw against an unfancied England and successive losses to Sweden and Spain have seen the French return home with the usual fanfare of stories of discord and unrest amongst certain members of the squad. They always were a rebellious bunch these French guys and it seems that not even Blanc has managed to tame the French propensity for self destruction at tournament finals.

OK their second defeat was to a Spain side famed for their keep ball tactic of “tiki taka” football that for once had my eyes refusing to stay open long enough to witness the “ole’s” that the Spanish fans tend to fill their time with in the absence of meaningful goalmouth incident. But I digress and that in itself is a topic for another post. The fact is though that when it mattered, I mean when it really mattered for France to rouse themselves in the spirit of La Marseillaise – “To arms citizens, form your battalions, let’s march, let’s march! Let an impure blood water our furrows…” the looked like they were instead on a casual stroll to the boulangerie. Monsieur Blanc managerial capabilities did not so much lead a side to battle but were instead contained by the fear of loss. He was intimidated by the technical superiority of his opponents and instead of allowing gallic flair to flourish and play to its potential he allowed his troops to withdraw and adopt a strategy of damage limitation. And this against a team that played without a recognised striker until the last quarter of the game. Needless to say it backfired and whilst France were marginally better in the second half, a late penalty award by the referee ended this sterile encounter and it appeared with that award that even the official had grown weary of France’s inability to compete.

We should not of course judge books by covers (even if some covers are really good) and we should also therefore not judge managers by one or even two games. Yet this was Blanc’s audition. This was his announcement to the football fraternity that “I have arrived. Watch me” and whether he is indeed a candidate for the vacant Tottenham post or any other post for that matter, then it has to be said that the interview didn’t go too well. Spain are world champions granted. But this is France. France with Benzema, Ribery, Nasri et al and they should have competed, but didn’t.

It will be interesting to see if Blanc does make an appearance in the English Premiership at some point, whether with Spurs or anyone else. Personally I doubt it. After all the last time Spurs recruited a French Manager following a major tournament we all know how that ended up! However, sometimes people do need to fluff their lines so that they can ensure that they eliminate the chances of doing so again. The proverbial “lessons learnt”. The Euro 2012 tournament would certainly have been a learning curve for Larry. We’ll wait and see what the value of his learning will be. As for manager of Spurs? Who knows? Well Daniel Levy might!

It is hard to understand that with less than an hour until today’s opening ceremony that the debate over racist chanting, from elements within the host nation support primarily, is still raging. It is clear and it has been for years that areas of Eastern Europe has had issues with racism rearing its nasty voice. We have had incidents of this in both Champions League and Europa League competition as well as qualifying games for international competition. UEFA will generally pass a derisory fine to the offending clubs and off we go again. The problem has never been fully dealt with and in the governing body’s desperation to transport the game to the far flung reaches of the ‘footballing family’ nations under the guise of inclusivity, it seems that corners have been cut and principles abandoned. But why am I surprised since FIFA gave the 2022 World Cup tournament to Qatar! And call me a cynic but aren’t Ukraine and Poland two of the few economically developing nations in Europe?

To compensate for this somewhat desperate decision and UEFA’s abdication of responsibility, they have now passed the onus of control on to match referees. Instead of ensuring that the relevant footballing, policing and legislative authorities get tough on these issues, root out the troublemakers and administer appropriate sanctions, the match officials have received “instructions” on how to deal with incidents of racist chanting/behaviour within stadia. If it gets too much, the referee has been advised that he can remove the players from the field of play. How utterly ridiculous and on so many levels.

Firstly at what point does this happen? Does the racist abuse towards an individual player or group of players have to be tested for severity or emotional stress? What if a team is losing and facing elimination from the tournament? Do the players of that team succumb to the temptation of getting the match abandoned? Conversely what if the fans of the losing team decide that it would be best to influence the tournament outcome by having matches routinely abandoned or delayed? Imagine the final group games when two matches of each group are played at the same time. Would a 20 minute delay due to racist chanting allow sufficient advantage to any team by allowing them to find out what the score is in the other match?

The whole situation is one that was wholly avoidable from the outset. England has been a pioneer in handling racism and violence in football and yet UEFA shudder at the thought of having anything to do with the English authorities. Knowledge sharing could have assisted in dealing with this issue if indeed UEFA were really adamant in holding the tournament in these nations. What should definitely not be happening is for UEFA to dump this issue into the laps of the referees who are there to officiate the matches. For such a prestige tournament to go ahead under this cloud is unacceptable and leaves yet another stain over the objectives, credibility and principles of UEFA.