The Andy Cole Column: Blanc's Bordeaux are side Europe's elite should fear

Fired Up! Laurent is a lovely guy, a gentleman at all times and of course a wonderful footballer

Without consulting any tables, can you name the team that had the best record in the group stage of the Champions League? The answer is Bordeaux, who won five of their six matches and drew the other in a tough section (Group A) that also included Bayern Munich and Juventus. If you knew that, well done – I'm not sure many would get that right.

Laurent Blanc's team finished ahead of Bayern to move into the last 16 while Juventus missed out, and no manager in their right mind should be relishing the prospect of facing Bordeaux next, however "unfancied" some say they are.

I am not claiming they will win the tournament – my pick at the outset had to be Barcelona – but Bordeaux play the game the right way. They're stylish and dangerous in equal measure, and if I had to pick one side that could fill the be surprise finalists, as Monaco were in 2004, then it would be Blanc's.

I played with Laurent at Manchester United, albeit only for half a season after he arrived in the summer of 2001 and before I went to Blackburn at the end of that year. He is a lovely guy, mild-mannered, a gentleman at all times, and of course a wonderful footballer.

His critics said that by the time he came to United he had lost his pace and could not maintain his level of play. But, to be brutally honest, I don't think he ever had exceptional speed in the first place. His truly exceptional ability was his reading of the game and his positional sense, and that's what made him so important, to Marseilles, Internazionale, United and his other clubs, and to France, whom he helped to win the World Cup in 1998 and Euro 2000.

He has now been in management a couple of years and he's built a team who earlier this year ended the astonishing seven-year reign of Lyons as French champions.

Bordeaux's major players include their top striker, Marouane Chamakh, 25, a French-born Morocco international who has been with the club his whole senior career, and Yoann Gourcuff, who Blanc brought back to France from Milan.

It is interesting to see former Premier League players in his team too in the shape of David Bellion and Alou Diarra. You'll remember that Bellion was at Sunderland in his teens, then at United for a couple of years, but never truly found his feet in England.

Diarra was technically a Liverpool player for around three years from 2002 to 2005, signed by Gérard Houllier and inherited by Rafa Benitez, but he was never fielded by either of them in a single game. He is now Bordeaux's captain, has been capped by France more than 20 times and is a huge figure, typically seen at his best in a holding midfield role.

There is not space here to examine in depth the subject of why some players just don't work out in England but thrive at the top level after leaving. In the case of Bellion and Diarra, maybe it's as simple as being back where they feel comfortable, playing a style of football suited to them.

So all in all, Bordeaux's performance was not a shock to me in a group phase where actually we did not witness too much carnage among the big sides.

Liverpool's exit did not surprise me, given the way they're struggling this season. Juventus's failure was a bigger shock. And the progress of the other English clubs was as expected.

United might have had injuries but I would still have been surprised if they had not made it through comfortably, and Michael Owen's hat-trick on Tuesday was the icing on the cake. One thing I'm noticing is the infrequency of his trademark runs in behind defenders; he's going much deeper for the ball now. Still, he's also managing to arrive in the right places for his share of tap-ins, so you won't find any United fans complaining.

Why Giggs deserves to be singled out

It's one down and one to go for Ryan Giggs: the Welsh Sports Personality of the Year is already in the bag, announced just a few days ago, so now for the big one, the main SPOTY award. Jenson Button is favourite, with Jessica Ennis, David Haye and Andrew Strauss among worthy contenders.

I know Giggsy well, and for his professionalism, longevity, achievements and continuing contribution, he'd be a deserving winner. He'll be wanting to win it, too. Sports people can often be heard saying that individual honours aren't of interest, it's all about the team, and that's true to an extent. But the SPOTY award is a major gong, one to be proud of picking up. It says something not just about your achievement but about the way you're regarded.

The fee for Andy Cole's column is donated to Alder Hey hospital and sickle cell anaemia research. He works on charitable projects with the sport and media team at law firm Thomas Eggar

There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'