Ronaldo dribbles, runs, and scores! Messi did it again! Neymar – the winning goal! We have all heard those cries on football pitches: the star striker saves the day yet once again. But in reality, there are still ten men on the field, and as the saying goes – attack wins you games, defense wins you titles.
To correct the injustice of the (football) world, we invite you to a ten–part series with Olybet.TV, where we talk about defenders. But to make things a little more appetizing, let’s talk about the most productive defensemen in football history.
10th place – When defenders score: a 200,000 investment that surprised everyone
9th place – When defenders score: A Brazilian bomber named Roberto Carlos
8th place – When defenders score: Germany’s well–oiled machine named Paul
7th place – When defenders score: The greatest defender of all time who never represented England
6th place – When defenders score: The English–born penalty maestro who represented Scotland instead
5th place – When defenders score: The man most people hate but his own crowd loves
After a short break – on the occasion of the eighth Ballon d’Or, we wrote about Lionel Messi last week – let’s continue with the scoring defenders. In the fourth place in our series, we will find Laurent Blanc.
The 57-year-old Frenchman is now primarily known as a coach – he just got sacked from Lyon – but he used to be a fearsome player back in the day, becoming both the European and world champion and fighting in the Premier League as well.
Started as an attacking midfielder
Blanc’s name is recorded in the annals of history as a defender, but when he started at the parent club Montpellier in the 1980s, the talented player performed the duties of an attacking midfielder ie number 10. Yes, Blanc was like the legendary Estonian Kostja Vassiljev in his youth!
Playing in the opponent’s third of the field, Blanc could show his wonderful technique, and in the 1986/87 season, he was the “main culprit” with his 18 goals in the fact that Montpellier rose to the Ligue 1 again after several years full of suffering in the 2nd division.
When promoted to Ligue 1, Blanc did not continue as productively – only six goals in the 87/88 season – but there was a reason for that. Montpellier’s head coach at the time, Michel Mezy, a former French national team member, told Blanc that he would be more useful to the team in the defensive line. In Mezy’s vision, this was a compromise of the situation where he wanted Blanc’s vision and passing skills on the court, but also wanted to hide his lack of speed.
However, the instructor completely hit the nail on the head. With his physicality and strength, Blanc absolutely nailed Montpellier’s defense while providing the forwards with sharp vertical passes from the backline. Not to mention the goals scored from corner kicks and the penalties scored.
And they also came in heaps: in the 88/89 season, Blanc scored 16 times, followed by 14 and 15 more in the following two years. His goal helped Montpellier lift the club’s last French Cup: in 1990, they beat RC Paris 2:1 in the final.
The moves abroad were not successful
In 1991, however, Blanc decided the time was ripe to move on and joined forces with Italian Premier League club Napoli. If in previous years the light blues had picked up medals in the land of pasta and pizza, then in the first season after Diego Maradona’s departure, things did not go so well: the fourth place was what they had to settle with.
Blanc also managed to score decently in a Napoli shirt, on six occasions, but the Frenchman still felt that the approach there did not allow him to give his best, so he returned home.
He spent the next four seasons in his homeland, respectively playing for Nimes, Saint-Etienne and Auxerre – with the latter he also became the champion! – and scored a total of 23 goals. Until the summer of 1996, when the Catalan giant FC Barcelona came knocking on the door.
The Blaugrana head coach at the time, Johan Cruyff, wanted to see the Frenchman in his team, but as a twist of fate: on the same day Blanc said “yes” and signed the paper, the coach got the sack… As a result, Blanc’s move to Barcelona did not turn out to be too successful, and he returned home from Spain after one miserable season.
Rised to be a President in his homeland
In the summer of 1997, of the French clubs, it was Marseille who was able to convince Blanc and it was there where he found his self-confidence and proved himself to be one of the best defenders in the country once more. Due to his solid performances and 13 (!) scored goals, the already 31-year-old veteran defender earned the nickname “Le President”.
The 1998/99 season was even better for Blanc and Marseille, but they didn’t manage to reach the ultimate goal – they came second in Ligue 1, losing to Bordeaux, who became champions, by just one point. In the UEFA Cup – the predecessor of the European League – they also had to settle for silver medals when they lost 0:3 to Parma in the final.
Then, despite two previous negative experiences, Blanc decided to go abroad for a while and join Inter Milan. The second trip to Italy went better, and although there were no medals, in 2000 the defender became the Pirata d’Oro, i.e. Inter’s own best player.
Champions of England with United
In 2001, at the age of 35, Blanc took the biggest step of his career when he joined Manchester United. However, the start in the English Premier League was not rosy, because by December, United had already lost five games together with Blanc. Meanwhile, in a very peculiar way, the defeats had come against Bolton, Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle United and Chelsea, spelling Blanc’s name with the first letters of the clubs.
Of course, it was a coincidence and there was no real connection behind it. However, in the second half of the season, United and Blanc’s shape improved, but they failed to catch Arsenal. In this regard, the mistakes were corrected in the following season, 2002/03, when they became Premier League champions.
That’s how Blanc was able to hang his football shoes as the reigning champion of England, which, by the way, was only the second championship of his career next to his French one in the 95/96 season.
Hero of the national team at the World Cup
Blanc received his gold medals wearing the shirt of France: of course, we mean the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship titles. Blanc’s role in them should not be underestimated. First, he was one of the vice-captains of the team, and in 1998 he scored the first golden goal in the history of the World Cup, helping France beat Paraguay 1:0 in the round of 16.
In total, he scored 16 times in 97 games for the national team, and what is significant: when Blanc scored, France never lost! In 1999, readers of the magazine France Football voted the defender the fourth-best French player in history, after Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane and Raymond Kopa.
Blanc’s club career goals were distributed as follows: Montpellier (80, which still stands as the club record!), Napoli (6), Nimes (1), Saint-Etienne (18), Auxerre (4), FC Barcelona (1), Marseille (17), Inter (6) and Manchester United (4).
However, despite 153 goals, Blanc is still known first and foremost as a self-sacrificing defender who never gave up on anything, always fought to the end and cleared the ball without choosing the means.