Transfer Gold as Manchester United finally sign Laurent Blanc in 2001
Each week, talkSPORT.com looks at transfers from years gone by; the deals that saw supporters express delight in whatever the equivalent of a funny meme was at the time. This week its Laurent Blancs free transfer to Manchester United.
In 2001, Alex Ferguson was in desperate need of a defender having sold Jaap Stam to Lazio for £16.5million and top of the managers shortlist was Blanc.
If anyone could shore up a back line deprived of the Dutchmans quality it was a man who kissed Fabien Barthezs baldy head for luck, right?
Sir Fergie had been trying to sign the centre-back for years and he finally got his man when Blanc, 35 at the time, joined from Inter.
“The first time was back in 1996 when Laurent was still with Auxerre, then while he was at Barcelona and Internazionale. Ive followed him around the world,” the manager said at the time in reference to his pursuit of the Frenchman.
Someone with his experience was vital and is no doubt a reason current manager Jose Mourinho is looking to players such as Toby Alderweireld, Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane to bolster a defence already containing Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Victor Lindelof.
“People keep going on about his age,” Fergie continued, “but Ive had Steve Bruce at 35 and Bryan Robson at 36 playing important roles here. Theres even a young midfield player [36-year-old Gary McAllister] at Liverpool who played I dont know how many games last season.
“Players who are prepared to look after themselves can prolong their careers longer than you think. We have a lot of young defenders here and Laurents experience will be vital to them.”
Defenders didnt come much more experienced than Blanc, a World Cup – he was suspended for the final – and European Championship winner with France, who represented his Les Bleus 97 times.
However, the Old Trafford faithful could be forgiven for wondering if letting Stam go was such a good idea after watching their side ship 38 goals before Christmas en route to a third place finish.
Defending wasnt as chaotic as this in Italy where Blanc had spent the previous two seasons. Thankfully things were eased by Rio Ferdinands arrival in 2002.
“One of the first things Alex Ferguson said to me when I got there was that Manchester United had to play differently in the Champions League than they did in the Premier League,” Blanc said in an interview with The Times in 2008. “He was convinced their tactical system had to be very distinct in Europe.”
So when training sessions started implementing drills focused solely on defending, Blanc was happy to add his two cents, or francs.
“At the beginning some of the players were not so keen, but we got into the habit of dedicated sessions on defending, practising different scenarios.
“I had a few ideas. In the first few sessions we had specifically on defending, I contributed some ideas. It led to improvements.
“I did spend some time with Rio and Wes Brown, and maybe I was there when there was a bit of cultural change at United and in English football generally,” he said.
He wasnt blessed with pace, but that bonce contained an extraordinary football brain, which is why he was always a step ahead of most of his opponents.
Blanc left at the end of the season in 2003, but was departing as a Premier League winner. Theres a great picture of him at the heart of Uniteds celebrations, sitting on team-mates shoulders clutching the trophy.
Time had obviously caught up with him, but he clearly left a mark on his team-mates.
“Laurent Blanc gave me a lot of advice in English about positioning,” Brown said in an ESPN interview. “He was unbelievable when he was younger, but he was older when he came to Old Trafford and his legs had gone a little bit. He just couldnt run as fast, yet he performed because he read the game so well.”
Good old Larry White.