Frank Leboeuf is better placed than most observers to consider the coaching credentials of former colleagues Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps.
Old allies writing a new script
As a member of the glorious French generation that won the World Cup in 1998 and added the European Championship two years later, Frank Leboeuf is better placed than most observers to consider the coaching credentials of former colleagues Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps. Blanc is regarded as one of the most promising new managers in Europe after leading Bordeaux to the French league title last May in only his second season in charge, while Deschamps guided Monaco to the 2004 Champions League final and Juventus to the 2007 Serie B title before taking over at Marseille three months ago.
Leboeuf, now working as an actor and script writer in Los Angeles, follows the fortunes of his one-time teammates from his American base - and is not surprised to see they are doing so well. "If there were two guys from that squad you'd have said would go on to be managers, it was Blanc and Deschamps," Leboeuf told The National. "They were leaders on and off the field. It was their destiny to go down that route.
"They didn't make speeches in the dressing room; we had our manager, Aime Jacquet, to do that. They spoke to players on an individual basis and always found the right words to say. "Laurent was a calm, reassuring presence. Didier was captain, so he talked a bit more. Their styles were different but they were important figures." Blanc's Bordeaux drew 1-1 at Juventus in their opening Champions League Group A game a fortnight ago, putting the side in an excellent position before their home fixture against Israeli opponents Maccabi Tel Aviv tonight.
Marseille face a trickier task to get out of Group C as they lost their opening fixture 2-1 at home to AC Milan and face Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu tonight in one of the week's most attractive fixtures. Things are going better for Bordeaux in the domestic competition, too - they maintained their two-point lead at the top of the French league thanks to a 1-0 win over Rennes whereas Marseille lost 3-2 at Valenciennes at the weekend - but Leboeuf believes Deschamps is the right man for the challenging Marseille post.
"It's the perfect time for him to be at Marseille because they didn't win the championship last season. If they had, it would be harder, because he'd have to win it again. "The Marseille fans are always impatient - I know, because I'm from that part of France - but that's understandable right now because Marseille haven't won the league for 17 years. "Didier's already a club legend because he was captain when Marseille won the Champions League in 1993. If he wins the league as a manager, he'll be a legend all over again."
Leboeuf believes that Blanc and Deschamps' contrasting overseas experiences as players have influenced their managerial styles. "Didier is more Italian because he played for Juventus for five years. "He found it difficult to settle down at Chelsea [1999-2000] because the football was so different, whereas Laurent adapted well to English football when he joined Manchester United. "Don't forget, Laurent was a midfield player before becoming a sweeper. When he played for Napoli early in his career [1991-92], the coach didn't understand why he crossed the half-way line. He was better suited to the attacking style of the English game. You can see that in his teams now - he likes them to go forward and play total football."
Blanc and Deschamps are the only members of France's most decorated generation to have tried their hand at management. Would Leboeuf ever be tempted to trade in his Los Angeles lifestyle to have a go himself? "It's not a goal for me, but I'd love to manage Chelsea one day. I'm in the movie industry right now, but Chelsea is in my heart. I was one of the 22 guys that won the World Cup, but Chelsea made me what I was as a player. I follow every game they play from the States and I'll never forget my time there.
"Even if Roman Abramovich left, and they lost all their money and ended up relegated, I'd still follow them because they're my club." firstname.lastname@example.org Bordeaux v Maccabi Haifa, Aljazeera Sport + 8, Real Madrid v Marseille, Aljazeera Sport + 5, both KO 10.45pm