Jean-Claude Blanc is the Harvard graduate nicknamed the ‘Lionel Messi of sports business’… the son of a dentist turned Juventus around after a match-fixing scandal and made PSG a flawed powerhouse – now Man United want him as CEO
- READ MORE: Man United’s CEO Richard Arnold will LEAVE the club next month
- Jean-Claude Blanc is seen as a strong contender to be his permanent successor
- England will struggle to win a trophy with Kalvin Phillips – It’s All Coming Up
As far as testimonies go, few come more complimentary for Jean-Claude Blanc than the words of Nice CEO Fabrice Boquet.
‘He is a bit like the Lionel Messi of sports business,’ he told L’Equipe.
‘It is not only a question of expertise but of interpersonal skills. He brings his vision, his network, his calm, his experience.’
‘Stoic’ is a word that sticks to Blanc, a character that can, at times, be too ‘deferential’ but is one that has a track record of inheriting messy situations and delivering greatness.
‘He is extremely competent and he embodies everything I like on a human level, with real values,’ Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivère once said. ‘He is frank, humble, efficient, pleasant on a daily basis. Jean-Claude ticks all the boxes.’
The question for Manchester United fans is does he tick all of their – many – boxes?
Jean-Claude Blanc is one of the frontrunners to be the new CEO of Manchester United
Blanc (right, with his wife Stephanie) has been called the ‘Lionel Messi of sports business’
United have been in disarray on and off the pitch this season and are now hunting for a CEO
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United have begun ringing the changes ahead of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s £1.25billion investment with the club announcing the departure of chief executive Richard Arnold on Wednesday.
United’s top lawyer Patrick Stewart will take over on an interim basis with one of Ratcliffe’s key aides, Ineos Sport chief executive Blanc, viewed as a potential permanent replacement.
As such people outside of France – Blanc is based in Monaco managing INEOS’ sporting portfolio – are trying to better understand the man who looks set to be in charge of restoring Manchester United to former glories.
Son of a dentist and a stay-at-home mum, Blanc – who is now married to partner Stephanie and has two kids – lived a low-key life while growing up in Savoy, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, until he was 18.
Blanc never travelled and instead decided to study up for a future in business.
In 1985, aged 22, Blanc undertook a masters for a management degree in international business and marketing at SKEMA business school.
Blanc was incredibly motivated to work on the 1992 Winter Olympics, which were to be hosted in Albertville, Savoy.
Approaching the organisers got him nowhere.
Blanc (centre) is a trusted ally of Sir Jim Ratcliffe (right), who is buying 25% of Man United
Richard Arnold’s departure as CEO is an early sign of the shake-up Ratcliffe will undertake
‘Come back in a year,’ they told him. So Blanc headed to Los Angeles to try and track down the organisers for the very profitable 1984 Games. It didn’t take him long to succeed.
‘I wasn’t a bad tennis player, so I played tournaments,’ he told the Financial Times in 2015. ‘Through tennis I met the people who organised the Los Angeles Olympics.’
Doubles matches soon delivered impeccable connections and LA would be where he would go on to meet his business mentors – Jean-Claude Killy and Alain Krzentowski.
Blanc returned to Savoy brimming with insider knowledge and was immediately given a job. He had a foot in the door.
Gigs with the Tour de France, the Paris Dakar, the French Open and the Davis Cup would follow in later years, attached onto an MBA earned at Harvard Business School in 1994.
His journey into football feels a long and winding one.
Upon graduating from Harvard he joined Amaury Sport in France, which managed major sporting events. From there, in 2001, he moved to the French Tennis Federation (FFT).
Blanc, father of two children, Eléa and Hugo, transformed the success of the French Open after being promoted to CEO.
His innovative ideas – which included adding an extra weekend to the Slam by starting on a Sunday rather than a Monday – dramatically elevated its commercial success.
Ratcliffe’s deal for 25 per cent of United is for £1.3billion and he will lean on INEOS colleagues
But Manchester United fans will care most about his record across football, how he fared at Juventus and at Paris Saint-Germain. The results should have United fans excited.
Blanc walked through the door at Juventus in 2006 with the Old Lady on her knees following relegation to Serie B.
A match-fixing scandal – the infamous Calciopoli case – had Juventus at its lowest ebb and Blanc, arriving as the new chief executive, was tasked with turning them back into a powerhouse.
‘We want to return to being the Ferrari of Italian and European football as soon as possible,’ he declared on arrival.
‘You have a mountain of problems to deal with at once,’ Blanc told the FT. ‘Practically 100 days are decisive for the club’s future. If you make a bad decision in those 100 days it’s over. Then it would take 20 years to return. In those 100 days we took many good decisions.’
At the beginning the angst around Juventus made staff feel unsafe. Blanc reportedly spent 18 months living with a bodyguard.
Convincing star players such as Gianluigi Buffon to stay was one of them, but Blanc was quick to renegotiate major business deals and he quickly improved the financial state of the club, helping Juventus secure an immediate return to Serie A.
Appointed chairman in 2009 one of the best part of his legacy was the delivery of the Allianz Stadium.
Opened in 2011, Blanc was pivotal in bringing a new stadium befitting of a club like Juventus.
It was the first stadium to be built in Italy since 1990 and was the only one privately owned by an Italian football club at the time of its arrival.
His work at Juventus had not gone unnoticed, especially not back in France.
Erik ten Hag has had to weather a range of storms at the club since his appointment in 2021
Ratcliffe was joined by INEOS director of sport Sir Dave Brailsford (to his right) and CEO Jean-Claude Blanc (front row, second right) to see Nice’s 1-0 away win over Monaco in September
Leonardo, whom Blanc had met when the Brazilian worked for AC Milan, wanted him at PSG. Leonardo to look after football affairs and Blanc to turn PSG into a commercial beast with the backing of Qatari Sports Investments (QSI).
At PSG he spent 12 seasons, overseeing 28 trophies, including eight French Ligue 1 titles.
His departure was described as a ‘bomb’ with the ‘soul’ of the club being ripped out. He was, reports in France attested at the time, one of the only men at PSG that nobody would speak ill of.
‘The last 12 seasons have been an amazing professional adventure and I am proud to have helped Paris Saint-Germain become the international sports powerhouse that it is today,’ he said upon leaving.
‘During this period, PSG won an unprecedented 53 trophies across the football and multi-sports sections, while becoming one of most successful premium sports and lifestyle brands in the world.
‘I would like to thank personally PSG President and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaïfi for his great leadership, his trust and friendship. I wish the entire PSG family every continued success in its next phase.’
He left for Ratcliffe. He left for INEOS.
Now that may mean he leaves Monaco for Manchester and takes up the mantle left by Richard Arnold.
United are struggling on and off the pitch. On the pitch they are far adrift of rivals, while off it Old Trafford is lagging behind the elite-level stadia of others.
A calm and composed figure who is seen as the ultimate problem solver – back in 2000 he was in crisis management when a terrorist threat threatened to scupper the Dakar Rally in Niger, forcing him to organise the airlift transfer of 150 rally cars to Libya – he might be the perfect steady hand to steer United back on track.
Blanc has a proven track record of inheriting messes and delivering quality on and off the pitch
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