Former France coach Laurent Blanc slumped to a defeat in his first game as boss of Qatar’s Al-Rayyan who succumbed to a late goal from Spanish great Xavi Hernandez’s Al-Sadd on Wednesday.
The clash of the European titans highlights the allure of the wealthy Qatari Stars League to foreign talent that also includes former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla who signed for Al-Sadd in August.
The fixture got underway at Al-Sadd’s Jassim Bin Hamad stadium at 1530 GMT with Al-Sadd clinching a hard-won 1-0 victory after Baghdad Bounedjah scored in the 83rd minute.
Blanc made the surprise return to club management earlier this month, with the 1998 French World Cup winner resuming dugout duties after a four-year hiatus.
The 55-year-old Frenchman was all smiles at his unveiling as Al-Rayyan’s new boss, his first managerial job since he left Paris Saint-Germain in 2016.
“The sporting adventure is interesting, the conditions are interesting, but what interests me the most is to see if with my staff we can put Al-Rayyan back where they belong,” he said last week.
The former defender won the 1998 World Cup on home soil and Euro 2000 in the great French side featuring Zinedine Zidane, who has enjoyed a successful second career in management at Real Madrid.
Al-Rayyan, who stay sixth in the Qatari championship, have signed him on an 18-month contract.
Xavi’s Al-Sadd, who won the domestic Emir Cup at the weekend, remain top of the league.
The pair embraced shortly after the final whistle with Blanc smiling at his Spanish opposite number before throwing a sweatshirt over his shoulders and leaving the field.
Ahead of the match dubbed the “Qatar Clasico”, Blanc said the clash would “be difficult because they are the leaders”.
“They have a coach who has a football philosophy as he played for many years with Barcelona,” he said.
“I came to Qatar because I love to develop myself and love new challenges. The task will not be easy, especially since I believe it is necessary to develop the performance of Al-Rayyan, and this is my mission and that of my staff.”
Despite his long spell in the footballing wilderness, Blanc boasts a more than adequate success rate having won four French league titles from only six seasons as a manager, three of those coming from his 2013-2016 spell at PSG.