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Thursday, 30 August, 2001, 18:51 GMT 19:51 UK
Blanc is a fine vintage
Blanc addresses Barthez in customary fashion
Blanc addresses Barthez in customary fashion
BBC Sport Online's James Standley profiles Manchester United's Laurent Blanc.

Manchester United's sudden sale of Jaap Stam left the club in urgent need of a new defender to shore up their shaky rearguard.

Top of Sir Alex Ferguson's wanted list was Inter Milan's veteran Frenchman Laurent Blanc, who is most famous in Britain for kissing a bald man on the head.

That may not be the most promising image to bring to one of the biggest clubs in the world, but it helps when that head belongs to a player who is already there - Fabien Barthez.

Blanc's benediction of the goalkeeper became a ritual famed the world over as France marched to the 1998 World Cup.

Blanc has a glittering international career behind him, but at 35 he will only be a short-term option for United.

There are many people questioning Ferguson's reasons for getting rid of Stam.

But the Scot maintains it was for football reasons, and the signing of Blanc will bear that out.

Blanc joined Inter Milan from Marseille
Blanc joined Inter Milan from Marseille
The Frenchman is a different sort of player to the Dutch powerhouse, preferring guile and vision to strength and power.

But, for all his undoubted ability, pace is not one of Blanc's strengths, and Ferguson has said that Stam's loss of speed was one of the main reasons for selling him.

So what does Blanc offer?

Often compared to former Liverpool great Alan Hansen in style, Blanc is as much of an attacking catalyst as a defensive linchpin.

An elegant ball player, he uses a fine footballing brain to disrupt attacks and look to set his team back on the offensive.

Final piece

Five, or even three, years ago Blanc would have brought an extra dimension to the United side.

But, although he played more than 30 games in each of the last two seasons for Inter Milan, it is hard to see the French veteran as the final piece in Ferguson's jigsaw.

The 1998 World Cup may have brought Blanc to the world's attention, but the event was a bitter-sweet experience.

A dominant force at the heart of the French defence, he was sent off in France's 2-1 win over Croatia in the semi-final.

Former Everton defender Slaven Bilic collapsed in a theatrical heap after the Frenchman uncharacteristically raised his arm to the Croatian.

Blanc had to sit and suffer as Les Bleus took Brazil apart 3-0 in the final.

Global giants

But the elegant defender was back at the heart of the defence in Euro 2000 as the World champions proved their class beyond doubt.

Born on 19 November, 1965 in Ales, Blanc has won 97 caps and played a major part in France's rise from footballing make-weights to global giants.

Blanc sees red in the World Cup semi in 1998
Blanc sees red in the World Cup semi in 1998
Apart from Inter Milan, Blanc has played for Napoli and Spanish giants Barcelona.

He has also turned out for a who's who of French club football, including Montpellier, Saint-Étienne, Auxerre and Marseille.

And, although it may be a short-term solution to United's defensive frailty, there is a good omen from Blanc's career with Montpellier back in the late 80s.

Playing alongside him was one Eric Cantona.

Links to more Man Utd stories are at the foot of the page.

 

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