You are reading the Get French Football News Talking Points Column, written by Eric Devin.
So, the votes are in from Sunday’s UNFP Awards, and among several surprising results, Laurent Blanc was named manager of the year. With the other candidates on the shortlist being Guingamp’s Jocelyn Gourvennec, Lyon’s Hubert Fournier and Saint-Etienne’s Christophe Galtier, the result seemed to smack of a laziness on the part of the players and managers who vote for the award. Winning the title means the manager of said side wins the award, barring some massive improvement, and it’s happened plenty of times before (Ancelotti, Girard, etc). That said, most of those previous choices were somewhat nailed-on with respect to other managers.
Galtier’s candidacy aside, Gourvennec and Fournier far exceeded expectations, and were easily the two best managers in the league, each outstripping their meager (transfer) budgets to finish several places above where one might have expected, coaxing career years out of talismanic strikers in the process. Add in Gourvennec’s Europa League success and the development of Fournier’s cadre of talented youngsters at Lyon, and the choice seems straight-forward enough, with OL’s title challenge likely to be the tipping point.
Despite this, however, Laurent Blanc, he of the rebellious dressing room and expensively assembled squad won out. With the knee-jerk reactions against his coronation that have quickly sprung up across social media, I wish to offer a counter-argument as to why Blanc deserved the award. Fournier is the obvious choice, and should have won, but I feel much of what Blanc has achieved this season has gone unnoticed, owing to PSG’s early season struggles.
The most obvious point in Blanc’s favour is the likelihood that PSG will win a domestic treble of the league, Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue. Sure, a team with PSG’s resources -should- win the league at a canter, and in the end, thanks to some stunning performances over the past month, the team did just that, erasing Lyon’s advantage in goal difference and reeling off eight straight wins in the process.
What is remarkable about that run, however, is not that it happened, but the manner in which it did. Much of the team’s effectiveness throughout April and May was down not to marquee man Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Lucas Moura, the Brazilian winger who had been so influential before being sidelined for some two months in late winter, but instead to unexpected contributors, specifically the South American troika of Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani.
Fringe players early in the campaign, the trio seemed to blossom as the absences of Moura, Ibrahimovic and Thiago Motta forced a rethink on the manager’s part. Pastore in particular has really come to the fore, his ability to play either as part of the midfield three or as a wide forward/winger cutting inside giving the team added versatility, a much needed positive in light of April’s nightmarish combination of fixture congestion and injury. Over the previous two years, the Argentine had looked a passenger, lacking the motor to play in midfield and the creativity to be included in the forward line, the exorbitant transfer fee PSG had paid only worth its while on rare occasions.
This season, however, after an indifferent start Moura’s injury forced Pastore to be involved more often and he has responded well, especially when asked to play in midfield, tracking back and winning the ball with a verve and energy heretofore unseen. Lavezzi and Cavani’s renaissances have not been as dramatic, especially considering their much-rumored departures. Now, however, Blanc seems to have coaxed the best out of them at just the right time. Add in the continued development of Adrien Rabiot, and Blanc’s man-management accomplishments over what will have been an exhausting 59 matches, while admittedly not deserving of the award, are still nevertheless impressive, and not to be as hastily dismissed as some would like.