Rumors are linking ex-PSG manager, Laurent Blanc, with his former side Barça and this appointment might do more harm than good.
It’s a lovely July afternoon; you’re sitting down on the beach and check your phone to see if anything new has appeared on it and find a rumor linking a somewhat great coach linked to your club. A great coach? Yes, a champion as a player and as a manager. “Wow, that’s amazing!” That’s what most Barça and neutral fans would think of the appointment of World Cup winner Laurent Blanc as a coach. After all, the former Manchester United and Barça defender coached some top teams, including his Bordeaux side of 2009 that won the league, France in 2012, and PSG from 2013 to 2016, winning four league titles in the meantime.
The Frenchman possesses many assets, such as his pedigree as a player and a manager and his history as a winner. Having played for the biggest clubs on the planet, especially Barcelona as he’s linked with them, the former defender warrants some degree of respect as a coach, and one would think he’d have the respect greats such as Luis Enrique, Pep Guardiola, and Didier Deschamps have. After all, there aren’t many coaches that can gloat their players’ medals and remember them for life, but Blanc can show his 2000 European Championship medal and his 1998 World Cup winner medal and celebrate.
As a coach, he seemingly has had some kind of success, with Paris and Bordeaux. Indeed, while his France side lacked in many aspects of the game and crashed out of the 2012 Euro’s against Spain in the quarter-finals, his Bordeaux side, where Yoann Gourcuff was the star, was outstanding. En route to their first Ligue 1 title in 10 years, Les Girondins smashed pre-QSI Paris, beat Lyon, ending their reign of seven league titles in a row and ground out many results. Laurent Blanc assembled a beautiful squad, and he received a lot of credits as his first managerial job helped him get the French position. With Paris, he had the best team in the league and was given a war chest to play in a league where money did not dominate yet. He won the league in his three years in charge, something his successor Unai Emery did not do.
If Laurent Blanc gets the job at Barça, there are some positives, but also many negatives come into play. First, he has difficulties in fighting egos, and when the going gets tough, he will experience acute pressure to keep his job, something the Qatari owners did to him a lot. His PSG side was controversial, and it wasn’t only the players causing troubles. It began with Leonardo, director of football at PSG at the time, and recently reappointed, who decided to elbow a referee and cause his own sacking in the process. Then, it was star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic who insulted France, by saying it’s a “sh*t country” after a disagreement with a referee. After that, it was Serge Aurier’s turn to cause havoc on the Parisian group by saying that his coach sucked Zlatan’s genitals and saying Blanc is a “p*ssy” live on Twitter. His PSG side was a lot, perhaps too controversial and it cost the former Barça player many sleepless nights as he tried to solve that.
Honestly, it’s no wonder that Blanc hasn’t coached since getting sacked in 2016, three months after signing a contract extension that would keep him for three more seasons. Everyone mistreated and caused Blanc unparalleled stress, if he is to come to his former side, he’d probably feel forced to oblige to each and everyone’s desires. So basically, the board would sack Valverde, a yes man, for Setién, who hasn’t lived up to expectations and seems to have crumbled underneath the players’ peer pressure and then sack Setién for Blanc, who can’t command a dressing room for toffee. All that in the space of seven months, not even a year.
Also, the dressing room aside, Blanc isn’t much better tactically speaking than his predecessors. Between him, Valverde and Setién, the best tactician would be Ernesto, who adapted really well to a squad in complete crisis. Blanc is the man who could not keep a 3-1 lead against Demba Ba’s Chelsea and let’snot forget about the horrible 3-5-2, with Gregory Van Der Wiel as a right-winger, against Manchester City in a Champions League quarter-final. PSG fans hated Blanc, as they began to grow tired of not reaching the Champions League semi-finals while spending a few hundreds of millions in the summer transfer windows. They hated his style and his lack of charisma, especially when they needed to show confidence in the critical moments in the Champions League. Planning a squad and seeing out a game isn’t Blanc’s forte either.
We’re in February 2015, Paris trail Lyon in the title race and are in dire need of points to win the league. Against Caen at the Parc Des Princes, it should be a walk in the park for the Parisians and if seemed as if they would run with the win as two early goals came for them. Yohan Cabaye went off injured, as did Marquinhos at half time. After that Blanc decided to make a third sub, but he got surprised by Serge Aurier and Lucas Moura being subbed off due to injury. With nine men, Paris threw the game away, and it was all Blanc’s fault as late Emiliano Sala and Hervé Bazile’s strikes helped Caen get the draw off the reigning champions. This match was the archetype of Blanc’s Parisian career as it looked good at first, but he’d always mess up somewhere. Whether it was in a meaningless game or a Champions League knockout round, Blanc didn’t seem to know what he did.
However, with all these shortcomings, Blanc is still a title winner, with minnows Bordeaux or giants PSG and he would perhaps get Barça on top of the league again, and that’s a good start at least. Hopefully, the board makes the best decision for the club and the manager, whether it is Setién, Kluivert, or Blanc, and they shall not rush into things.
A history of crumbling under pressure: The Jordi Alba conundrum in a big game
Claiming Jordi Alba to be one of La Liga’s – if not Europe’s – most improved players from last season would not be a far fetch. While on his best days, his quality has always been evident, and his raiding runs on the left flank tend to give the Blaugranas a huge edge, the Spanish international’s output in the final third has lately begun to revolve around sensible plays, with visible improvements in Alba’s decision making; most notably refraining from relying on the formularized ‘Messi cut-back.’
The marauding speedster has become a crucial cog in Koeman’s side as the newfound 3-5-2/3-4-3 formation arguably seems to extract his best qualities and conceals his most noticeable flaws. The Spaniard is considered lethal, and a vital source of penetration situated higher up the field. With slick spells of possession in the centre, his runs from wide are almost gone unnoticed.
However, in spite of Alba’s achievements thus far and enhancements in his gameplay, issues that have tainted the talented Spaniard’s career still prove to be a thorn in his side, overcoming him in arguably the worst moments. Big games and Jordi Alba appear to have developed an incredibly toxic relationship as the 32-year-old has, on countless occasions, been a victim of his feeble mindset, tarnishing his legacy in the process.
The Copa del Rey final will once more be a huge encounter with a crucial source of silverware on the line for the Blaugranas. A win will undoubtedly elevate their status, uplift the morale of the team and surely prove to be their saving grace this season. Unfortunately, a game of this magnitude is also the perfect breeding ground for Alba’s antics. As promising as his season may have been, he has still proven to be unreliable in pressure situations.
Blitzing forward, he is known to be a menace, but in the defensive third, poor decision making is often visible. In the recent Clásico, Alba’s assist for Mingueza may have overshadowed his lack of focus defensively, but it must not be forgotten that he was a major reason why Fede Valverde was able to comfortably cruise past the Barcelona midfield and provide Benzema with the pre-assist. After enjoying one of the best patches of his career, Alba fell prey to the big game syndrome on the night it mattered most.
While that defeat was not entirely the number 18’s fault, it was a testament to his habitual blunders. In the Spanish Supercup final against Athletic Bilbao, Alba was once again one of the major culprits, proving to be undependable in set pieces and as confused as a lost sailor in defence, suffering at the hands of Iñaki Williams most notably. Scoring an own goal against the very same opposition in the league was another dent on his resumé. The fact that Alba contributed heavily to Valencia’s Copa Del Rey victory in the 18/19 season also devalues his presence in critical games, with both goals from Valencia easily avoidable, had the Spaniard not fumbled cheaply.
For the first goal, Alba came instantly rushing to block the scorer but was sent to the cleaners as he gravely mistimed his run. On the second occasion, the 32-year-old enabled Valencia’s winger to charge past him seamlessly as he went onto assist the final dagger. Admittedly, Culés have done their best to move on from the past in an attempt to forget and forgive. Having made some huge strides this campaign, clinging on to errors that any mere mortal is capable of committing does seem nonsensical.
Even so, despite efforts made to channel more faith in Alba, his recent comments have only made matters worse. As a leaked conversation between Alba and Piqué was made public by the media after the Clásico, concerns are again beginning to mount over his mentality. Even though Piqué appeared to be optimistic regarding Barça’s chances in the Copa Del Rey, all Alba had to offer in response was, “I don’t know.”
Completely ignoring the progression Barcelona made after proceedings, disregarding the fact that a point is the least Barça deserved, and most importantly, forgetting the club’s ability to bounce back this season, a meagre “I don’t know” is all the full-back gave in response. Of course, drawing conclusions based solely on a 10-second clip would be unjust, yet, given Alba’s past of wavering when it matters most, it really does not come as a surprise. The Anfield annihilation still remains fresh in memory, a wound that is yet to heal fully.
To play or not play, that is the question
As the full-back made a mockery of himself under the lights, his breakdown at half-time when the comeback was not even completed simply implies his pessimistic nature. Thus arrives the million-dollar question: do Barcelona run the risk of playing Alba in a game where the stakes are this high?
Considering Alba’s recent comments and reputation in knockout stages, fielding him in a game that holds such value for Barça’s campaign is inarguably a risk. The brand of football Barcelona have been playing comprises of collective strength, which emphasizes on every individual playing a vital role. One loose screw is all it takes to disrupt the team, and it’s fair to say Alba has proven to be that loose screw on several occasions before.
Nonetheless, the Blaugranas are incredibly limited, not yet possessing the privilege to have any firm competition in Alba’s position. As frustrating as his shortcomings may be, there is still no denying that his “good days” earn him the title of one of the best full-backs in the world. An additional factor is that he has, at the very least, not crumbled in any of the previous Copa del Rey knockout stages. Against Granada and Sevilla, his contributions were absolutely vital, particularly his performance against the Nazaríes, where a blistering brace enabled his side to seal qualification.
Barça are certainly running a risk, but this risk could potentially pay dividends if Alba shows a more daring and composed version. Making a sudden change in the final seems unlikely and could potentially hamper the team’s harmony.