Sir Alex Ferguson had been chasing Laurent Blanc for years and in 2001 he finally got his man.
By that time, the 35-year-old Frenchman had been crowned a World Cup and European Championship winner, being seen as a talismanic replacement for Jaap Stam. He played 73 times for the Reds, and retired after helping them to the 2002/03 title.
Ferguson had tried to persuade Blanc to reconsider hanging up his boots. "Out of respect to Laurent, he's the one who has to decide. But it would be a regret of mine if he did retire,” he said.
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But Blanc did not change his mind and it was the first of a handful of times he went against Sir Alex’s wishes in the years after. In 2008, he rejected the chance to become the Scot’s assistant at United after the departure of Carlos Queiroz.
Blanc stayed on at Bordeaux and led them to the 2008/09 Ligue 1 title - and thus a domestic double - after finishing second in his debut campaign the year before. Twelve months after handing the club their first league title in a decade, he left.
He contacted The France Football Federation (FFF) about the vacant national team role amid the exit of Raymond Domenech after a disastrous 2010 World Cup saw France bow out of group stage, finishing bottom amid controversy.
Blanc was appointed to the hot seat in June 2010 upon all 23 World Cup squad members being suspended by the FFF, which was separately dealing compensation disputes with Bordeaux upon the exit of their manager.
Just months before Blanc took on the job with France, speculation arose about him potentially replacing Ferguson at Old Trafford upon his retirement, which many at the time mooted was looming.
Blanc was actually the bookies’ leading candidate for the role in January 2010. “Just because I have strong links with Ferguson he's not going to come up to me and say ‘Hey, here you go Laurent, I've saved the place for you’,” Blanc hit back when asked about the possibility.
And later that year, he admitted his interest in the role saying: "Sir Alex is the cornerstone of Manchester United. He personifies Manchester's project, he's got this passion.
"It [being United manager] would be very interesting, although a very tough challenge but maybe interesting if he is the one starting it [his replacement's process]. With me or someone else but I could be interested."
He clarified: "Nobody should take it from him. It would be very sad for Manchester but it would be even sadder for him." Sir Alex batted away any suggestion of retirement in December 2010, declaring: “I’m in no mood for it”.
When murmurings were surfacing about Blanc’s potential appointment as France boss in 2012, Sir Alex - who took on the role of Scotland manager in 1995 aged 43 after the sudden passing of Jock Stein - advised him against the move.
“I think he is too young to become a national team coach,' said the then-68-year-old. "I think Laurent has a lot of things to do before taking this kind of role. This is his first season as a champion and managing his team in the Champions League. He should stay at Bordeaux.”
Blanc ignored this advice and helped France reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2012, after which he left his post but was widely praised for stabilising the ship. It prompted Ferguson to later admit that he had succeeded in relative terms during his tenure, with a slight caveat.
"When Laurent played in Manchester he followed our training methods very carefully," the Old Trafford boss said. "That's very intelligent and obviously he has qualities as a coach because he made France a winning team again."
In June 2013, Blanc took the reins at Paris Saint-Germain after Carlo Ancelotti’s departure to Real Madrid. He showed his managerial credentials again winning three league titles, three Coupe de France, three Coupe de la Ligue and three Trophee des Champions.
In two of those seasons he led the club to a domestic treble, both consecutively. He was named Ligue 1 and French manager of the year in 2015 before being handed the Ligue 1 accolade again the following year. Again, 12 months after success, he would leave his post.
A forgettable period at Qatari club Al-Rayyan followed between December 2020 and February 2022 but in October he was given another chance, taking the saddle at Lyon as he tries to revive their season after a disappointing start.
Nearly 40 former United players who featured under Sir Alex Ferguson during his reign have gone on to become managers themselves but Blanc is arguably the most successful. Whenever the topic arises, the Frenchman is always very complimentary of his ex-boss, who was forced to hold his hands up when his former player proved him wrong.