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Jun 26, 2013

Five things PSG's Blanc must get right

After seeing a 'Who's Who'-worth of names pass ahead of him for the Paris Saint-Germain job, Laurent Blanc could be forgiven for having an inferiority complex.

That sentiment could be hardened by the repeated speculation he is merely keeping the seat warm for Arsene Wenger to take over next summer, rendering Blanc's two-year contract worth just slightly more than the paper it's written on.

• Blog: PSG get their man... finally

In the meantime, however, the former France international defender has an entire season to embellish a reputation nicely forged - initially - at Bordeaux before it took something of a battering with Les Bleus. Should he do so, a single campaign may be enough to push him sufficiently back into the frame for a move to his dream managerial destination: England. But just how will he do it?

1) Conquer the dressing room:

Carlo Ancelotti barely seemed to hold the team together at times last season - indeed, the defining team-building moment came without the technical staff as the squad bonded in an Italian restaurant at the behest of the team's second-choice goalkeeper, Nicolas Douchez, in December.

Blanc knows all about dressing-room volatility, and the way the France squad's discipline unravelled to spectacular effect at Euro 2012 must be a worry for PSG fans. You would have thought if Le President's aura would have a deflationary effect on the most inflated of egos it would have worked on those who worshipped him as a player.

The reunion with Euro reprobate Jeremy Menez, who clashed with sporting director Leonardo and Ancelotti last season, will be particularly interesting while any number of the bit-part players who were loaned out in January by Ancelotti could poison the atmosphere within the squad unless they find gainful employment this summer.

Though Lucas appears unlikely to pose a discipline problem, the 20-year-old Brazilian's frank admission that he would have to ask Leonardo to find out just who Blanc is suggests 1998 World Cup winner or not, the newly-installed coach will have to earn a good many of the squad's respect through his work, not merely by coming out on top in the 'show us your medals' competition.

2) Keep Leonardo and QSI on side:

Blanc's biggest battle may well come outside the dressing room, in the offices of his bosses. Reportedly, one of the major factors behind Ancelotti asking to be freed from the last year of his contract was that he was unhappy his job had been threatened by the club's Qatari owners when the team went through a patchy spell of form in November. "I would like to know if I'm here for results or for a project," Ancelotti asked in L'Equipe before he had announced his intention to leave the Parc des Princes.

Blanc, with what is likely to be a very short, short-term deal, is fully aware only results count, but if Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) and Leonardo managed to irk the unfailingly avuncular Ancelotti, how long will the more taciturn Blanc last before becoming disgruntled?

After his role with France fizzled out, French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet complained Blanc was difficult to reach by phone, and drew unfavourable comparisons with the more approachable Didier Deschamps. How Blanc's singular character will go down with QSI and Leonardo, whose nine-month ban and subsequent isolation from matchday activities may make him keener to be more hands-on with the day-to-day running of the squad, can only be guessed at.

Naturally, a good start to the season will help smooth relations, and with only Monaco likely to pose a formidable obstacle in the opening two months of the campaign, Blanc has a chance to make a good first impression.

3) Win Ligue 1, and win it better:

"To win the league better" was how Brian Clough explained his motivation for joining then-English champions Leeds United to predecessor Don Revie, and Blanc and Ancelotti could have the same conversation. Blanc is fortunate that, domestically, his forerunner did not leave a particularly glorious legacy. Knocked out of the cup competitions at the quarter-final stage, the new Real Madrid coach did win the title, but given QSI's massive outlay, it was the minimum expected.

However, the manner in which the team picked up a first French crown since 1994 was hardly imbued with the panache QSI pine for. Many times PSG's greater individual quality, particularly on the counter-attack, proved enough to see them through, leaving Ancelotti to lament a lack of a team ethic on many an occasion.

The Qatari owners seem to have a vision akin to that which Ancelotti will also find at the Santiago Bernabeu: merely winning is not enough. Christophe Dugarry is convinced his former international team-mate will take the same raw materials as his predecessor but produce something more enticing while achieving similar if not better results.

"It's a bit early to say, but I think it's likely to be agreeable. When he was in charge of Bordeaux, it was amazing. It was magical. It was mostly down to the way he spoke to the players, and gave them confidence."

4) Champions League success:

Winning European football's top prize within five years of their summer 2011 takeover was QSI's stated ambition, and unless they believe their players should start taking a healthy interest in high-level EU meetings, their request Blanc "steer the team towards European summits" in the press release that confirmed his appointment is presumably aimed at shining in the race for the 'Cup with big ears'.

A little greater self-belief may have allowed PSG to push Barcelona still closer in their quarter-final match-up last season, and Blanc will be expected to improve on that performance if not win the competition outright in his first year.

His post-L1 title Champions League campaign suggests big European nights hold no fears as he brilliantly guided Bordeaux beyond eventual runners-up Bayern Munich and Juventus en route to the last eight. Blanc's problem is that while that may have counted as success at the Stade Chaban-Delmas, it is the least QSI expect.

5) Win over the fans:

PSG supporters are fickle to a fault, and Blanc's past as a Marseille player will mean he starts with a handicap as far as a public is concerned. The tempestuous end to his reign as France coach, which cruelly overshadowed the 23-match unbeaten run he led Les Bleus on, also badly ate into the credit he had built among those who celebrated his prominent role in their country's greatest footballing successes and the national team's renaissance under him following the 'bus of shame' incident at the 2010 World Cup.

That though will, of course, quickly be restored to triple A status should Blanc deliver both results, particularly in the classique with OM at the start of October, and the scintillating football those who flock to the Parc, and QSI, are desperate for.

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