The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The President’s term is over, after 20 years

Manchester: The glittering career of Laurent Blanc came to an end on Sunday as the former France international defender played his last game for Manchester United.

The 37-year-old played the second half of their 2-1 victory over Everton at Goodison Park as the already-crowned Premiership Champions finished their league season with a flourish.

Blanc, nicknamed The President because of his leadership skills, has won the World Cup, the European Championships, a French League title, has played for nine clubs and finally ended his footballing days with a Premiership title.

The name Blanc has also caused mirth as the name spells out the first letters of the teams United lost to in the league this season — Bolton, Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle and Chelsea.

Blanc, who arrived in the summer of 2001 as a replacement for Dutchman Jaap Stam, has been past his best this season, yet his experience in the back line was valuable despite a distinct lack of pace.

Blanc told the Sunday Times “criticism from the press has been part of the job. When a club like Manchester United signs a 35-year-old player, you could ask yourself where’s the sense in that. That’s why I will be forever grateful to Alex Ferguson for having brought me here. Because to play for Manchester United is a unique experience.”

Ferguson himself said: “I’m delighted with what Laurent brought to the team. I could not have expected more from him. During his entire career he has been an absolutely fantastic professional. I wish I could have had him five years earlier.”

Blanc confirmed: “Yes, I should have come to the club before.”

In 1996, when France reached the European Championship semi-finals, he used to visit Old Trafford to see his friend Eric Cantona. “One day Eric rang me and passed the phone to Ferguson but it was too late. I had signed for Barcelona the day before,” Blanc added.

Blanc said he discovered English culture, which he sometimes found more rich than French culture, and adored his life in a town where it did not rain more than in Paris.

He also came across a different football strategy. “We don’t have a defensive attitude here. The most difficult position here is that of a defender when playing one-against-one, which is different to Italy where you play a zone defence.

“To continually attack might work against teams of the same mentality but at the highest level in Europe that can cause problems.”

At the end of the week, Blanc and his family will pack their bags and return to France for good. The man who scored 143 goals in 20 years is likely to look up his old friend Cantona for a few games of beach soccer perhaps.

Rest is also likely to be high on his list of priorities. “Twenty years in football is too long,” Blanc added.

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