Sun, May 11, 2003 - Page 22 News List

Laurent Blanc to play his last match against United


Before France's epic 3-0 World Cup win over Brazil five years ago, Laurent Blanc approached Zinedine Zidane in the changing room and whispered to him "do something special today."

Zidane scored twice, helping France win the 1998 World Cup as Blanc, ineligible to play the match because of a suspension, watched from the sidelines.

Today, the 37-year-old Blanc retires from soccer after 20 years. He graced Europe's biggest clubs, inspired France to success and played with his typical flair in more than 800 matches.

Manchester United's trip to Everton on Sunday will be Blanc's last match. His first was for Montpellier in 1983, and spells at glamour clubs Napoli, FC Barcelona and Inter Milan followed.

Real Madrid star Zidane recalls how Blanc inspired him to glory in the famous World Cup triumph over Brazil.

"Just before the final, he spoke to the players," Zidane told France Football magazine in an interview Friday. "He came straight to see me and told me to do something special. I was very touched."

Despite missing the biggest game of his career, Blanc was selfless enough to bury personal disappointment and encourage his teammates.

"From that day on I understood what he meant to me. He was my big brother," Zidane said.

But Blanc has not always been on the same side as his France colleagues.

Since joining Manchester United in August 2001, he has been played against several of the same teammates with whom he won the World Cup and European Championships in 2000.

Blanc played against Arsenal stars Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires last season in a 3-1 away loss at Highbury.

In the return fixture at Old Trafford, he played against Sylvain Wiltord, who scored as Arsenal won 1-0 to clinch the league title.

This season, in September, he faced Bolton's Youri Djorkaeff at Old Trafford. It was another defeat, as United lost 1-0.

Djorkaeff, 34, who this weekend fights to save Bolton from relegation, says Blanc will be remembered simply as "a champion."

"Laurent was a role model for my generation and will be for those in the future," Djorkaeff said. "We weren't spoiled kids who started out at the top. Like me, he played in the second division and worked his way up."

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