English clubs stifle young French talent, says Blanc

Laurent Blanc, the coach of France and a former Manchester United player, believes that promising teenagers should think twice before joining a big club in the Premier League, as it may just lead to years on the bench.

French football's renowned youth system has seen a factory-line of players leaving the country at young ages to join big teams, considerably weakening the domestic league because clubs often lose their brightest prospects for little money.

Rather than gaining a few years' experience at home, many young starlets are offered lucrative deals abroad, often in the Premier League, where some have drifted into obscurity or never truly lived up to their potential.

It is a situation that concerns Blanc, who fears that players such as Chelsea's Gaël Kakuta – who at 19 is rated France's brightest prospect – are prevented from playing first-team football in England. "At that age the most important thing is to improve, to play and to learn, rather than getting an attractive transfer to a club in the big four or the big five [of the Premier League]," Blanc said, speaking yesterday ahead of his side's friendly against England at Wembley tomorrow. "They'll train once or twice a week with the first team but will never play in the first team. What's the point of that?

"It halts progress. You need a career plan, what do you aspire to at 16 or 17 when you are in a French club? To play in the first team at Le Havre or to get a big transfer and not play? The player has to think about this with his entourage to make the right choice. If you think about the ideal progression, it's not the right choice. [But] we're not in control of the lad or his entourage."

Regardless of his fears for the future, Blanc has led a mini-revival of the French national team after their catastrophic World Cup. Since taking over from Raymond Domenech in July, Blanc has made sweeping changes, and the rebuilding process has started promisingly, with France top of their Euro 2012 qualifying group with three wins in a row after losing the opening match at home to Belarus.

Yet the events in South Africa are still raw, and everyone is aware there is still much work to do. Blanc spoke yesterday of trying to instill a "hard centre" to his team, while Chelsea winger Florent Malouda said France are still "really far" from being a top side.

Moving on from the World Cup is proving harder for Blanc than he first imagined when he replaced Domenech. He bemoaned the lack of great players at his disposal, unlike in his heyday as a player when France won the World Cup and the European Championship with the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly and Patrick Vieira. "For the moment we don't have any great players in our national team. What's for certain is that we haven't got there yet, we're not ready," he said. "We have a few players who are playing in big clubs, who are maybe in the process of becoming great players. We have to be patient, we have to help them to blossom."

One player who has demonstrated improved form this year has been Samir Nasri, whose influence in the Arsenal team is growing. Nasri is one of the new players Blanc has introduced to the squad who does not carry the scars from the summer debacle, but yesterday he spoke of how it underlines their current project.

"I wasn't there but I am aware of the nightmare it was for the players, the fans and the whole country. It is still etched on the memories of all those who took part. Now we are all dedicating ourselves to the future," Nasri said.

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<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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