Former Manchester United defender Laurent Blanc has revealed that he wishes he joined the club earlier considering he had not one, but four previous chances to play under Sir Alex Ferguson.
During Fergie’s most successful spell at United, he regularly looked to reinforce his defensive options and was known to be a fan of Blanc.
In the summer of 1995, the legendary Scottish manager made his first attempt for Blanc, who had impressed him earlier when he lined up for Montpellier against United.
While tempted by the idea of arriving at Old Trafford, Blanc turned down the opportunity as he was reluctant to leave France. He had struggled during an earlier spell in Italy with Napoli and so was not keen to leave his home country again, especially for English football.
Blanc instead elected to move to Auxerre, where he was crucial to helping the side win a league and cup double.
United tried again to sign the defender but he chose to complete a switch to Barcelona where he was attracted by the lure of playing under the stewardship of Johan Cruyff. Cryuff was fired the same day Blanc joined the Blaugrana.
He once recalled, “The funny thing is that when I arrived in Barcelona [in 1996], Sir Alex Ferguson called me. He asked me to sign for United, but I couldn’t go, I had already signed with Barca.”
His time at Camp Nou did not go according to plan and just one year later, Blanc was on the move again. He signed for Marseille and experienced an upturn in fortunes which earned him a spot in France’s 1998 World Cup winning squad.
The Red Devils tried again to bring Blanc to Old Trafford when he was with Inter Milan with Ferguson eager to replace Jaap Stam with the Frenchman.
Fergie said, “We weren’t looking for anyone else. I have tried to sign Laurent maybe four times now – as recently as last season and when he was at Auxerre, Barcelona and Inter Milan. It was always the wrong time.”
Ferguson finally got his man when he added a 35-year-old Blanc to his ranks in 2001.
The player denied suggestions that he had rejected United and insisted that personal circumstances simply did not allow a transfer to get over the line.
“I am honoured to play for such a big club like Manchester United. I never refused them. There was always something that prevented the transfer. That’s all.”
He did not have the best start to life in England and even had second thoughts about his decision to join United. There were rumours that he was planning to retire at the end of the season.
“At the moment, there are too many other things to concentrate on rather than thinking about retirement. As things stand, I still intend to retire at the end of the season.”
“I know Sir Alex Ferguson has changed his mind, but that’s not the case for me. I must emphasise, I am not even thinking about that at the moment. All I’m focused on is giving of my best and trying to achieve something for Manchester United.”
Fergie however managed to convince him to shelve plans of hanging his boots and play for one more year – a request Blanc granted to repay the faith and support his manager gave him during his initial turbulent time at United.
“He [Ferguson] told me: ‘I want you to work with me for at least one year. I have very young defenders, like the Neville brothers, Rio Ferdinand, West Brown… and you have a lot of experience.’”
“At the beginning, some of the players were not so keen, but we got into the habit of dedicated sessions on defending, practicing different scenarios. I had a few ideas. In the first few sessions we had specifically on defending, I contributed some ideas. It led to improvements.”
“I did spend some time with Rio and Wes Brown, and maybe I was there when there was a bit of cultural change at United and in English football generally.”
With United during his two-season tenure, Blanc would go on to win the Premier League in his last campaign.
He pointed out, “It was incredible, and now I regret not having gone to England earlier.”