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Laurent Blanc steps down as coach of 'Les Bleus'

Latest update : 01/07/2012

Article text by NEWS WIRES

Laurent Blanc (pictured) is not renewing his contract as manager of France's "Les Bleus", the French Football Federation said Saturday. France made it to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals but lost to defending champions Spain.

AP - France is looking for a new coach after Laurent Blanc turned down a new contract offer, and former World Cup-winning captain Didier Deschamps is touted as the favorite to replace him.

Blanc stepped down on Saturday after a European Championship campaign that ended in the quarterfinals and with his players again being questioned about their behavior.

Blanc informed the French Football Federation of his decision following lengthy negotiations with FFF president Noel Le Graet on Thursday. The FFF said there would be no further comment before a news conference Tuesday, when its executive committee meets.

The favorite to replace Blanc is Deschamps, who played 103 matches for France, and is set to leave as Marseille manager after a difficult last season.

Deschamps would be the ideal choice to replace Blanc, having made no secret of his desire to coach France one day. He was France’s captain when it won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 -- the national team’s last major trophy -- and would be a popular choice.

Le Graet, however, was favorable to Blanc staying on.

“Laurent Blanc contacted the FFF president on Saturday to tell him of his decision not to accept the renewal of his contract as national team coach,” the FFF said in a statement.

Blanc was reportedly unhappy he wasn’t offered a contract extension before Euro 2012 had started, with the FFF preferring to wait and see how the team performed. France lost its final group match to last-place Sweden to set up a clash against Spain in the quarterfinals, losing 2-0 to the defending champions in a largely defensive performance.

The Euro 2012 campaign was tainted by tensions among the players following a heated changing room bust-up immediately after the 2-0 loss to Sweden, while midfielder Samir Nasri was also embroiled in an expletive-laced exchange with a French journalist. Those incidents may have influenced Blanc’s decision.

He took charge of France in July 2010 following the World Cup debacle in South Africa in which the players went on strike in protest against then-coach Raymond Domenech.

Blanc’s tenure reign was fairly successful, rebuilding the team following the shambles of the Domenech era. Under Blanc, France reached the quarterfinals of a competition for the first time since the 2006 World Cup, drawing a line through the failures of Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup in which France failed to win a single game under Domenech.

Blanc lost his first two games in charge, but the team then embarked on a 23-match unbeaten run before losing to Sweden and Spain at Euro 2012. Altogether, France lost only four out of 27 matches under Blanc.

Having led Bordeaux to the French title in the 2008-09 season, Blanc may return to club management. He had previously been linked to the vacant manager’s position at English Premier League team Tottenham.

“It’s a shame that Blanc is not staying,” former France manager Michel Hidalgo said on BFM TV. “It’s hard to understand, but it is Laurent Blanc’s decision.”

Hidalgo, who guided France to its first trophy at the 1984 European Championship, thinks Deschamps would be the ideal choice.

“At 43 years old, he’s ready for everything. He has good qualities,” Hidalgo said.

Former France left back Bixente Lizarazu was also disappointed by Blanc’s decision.

“A big surprise, a big waste. I think Laurent Blanc had all the cards in hand to decide to carry on, with the challenge of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil,” Lizarazu said on RTL radio. “Maybe it was down to the discussion with Noel Le Graet. Both of them were waiting to see if there was a desire to work together, and since both seem to be very, very stubborn, with a strong character, neither of them made the first step. It’s a bit like in a relationship where you have to say ‘I love you’ first. No one says it and you split up.”

Blanc restored the pride of the national team after it hit rock bottom at the last World Cup _ the players shocking fans back home and causing public outcry by going on strike at a training session in protest after striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting Domenech.

The task appeared even more difficult for Blanc when France opened its Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with a 1-0 loss at home to Belarus. Things picked up quickly, however, and confidence was boosted by impressive wins against England, Brazil and Germany in friendlies.

Against Spain, however, Blanc received criticism for choosing a negative lineup that featured two right backs. Striker Karim Benzema received no service and failed to score in four matches at Euro 2012. The abject performance against Spain came just days after an equally poor showing against Sweden, perhaps showing the limitations of the team and how far Blanc could really take it.

The row in the changing room that followed the Sweden match also showed Blanc that the players are still difficult to handle, and that another two years in charge would mean having to address tensions within the squad amid constant media exposure.

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