The managerial search at Al-Ittihad has taken several twists and turns, with the Saudi club initially close to appointing former Milan manager Stefano Pioli. However, negotiations with Pioli broke down due to internal conflicts within the club, influenced heavily by star player Karim Benzema’s preferences.

Stefano Pioli, who departed Milan at the end of the 2023-24 season, was in advanced talks with Al-Ittihad. Despite the seemingly imminent deal, negotiations stalled. Reports from Le Parisien and other sources suggest that Karim Benzema played a significant role in this disruption. Benzema reportedly preferred Christophe Galtier, currently the head coach of Al-Duhail in Qatar.

The Frenchman’s influence within the club appears to be decisive. The 36-year-old expressed his preference for Christophe Galtier over Pioli. As a result, Al-Ittihad shifted its focus towards Galtier, even making a substantial offer worth $13 million per year for three years. Despite these efforts, negotiations with Galtier also did not yield the desired outcome.

In the meantime, Al-Ittihad has had considerable internal strife. The previous president of the club, Loay Nazer, stepped down on Saturday. This was allegedly because the Ministry of Sport was interfering with the club’s decision-making, according to Middle Eastern news outlets. Since Nazer was instrumental in suggesting Pioli as a possible replacement for the outgoing head coach, Al-Ittihad has chosen to go in a different way.

Al-Ittihad finally settles down for Blanc

Following the collapse of the Pioli deal and unsuccessful talks with Galtier, Al-Ittihad reportedly turned their attention to Laurent Blanc. The former France manager has been out of work since leaving Lyon last season. The 28-year-old potential appointment is seen as a favorable option given his past working relationship with Benzema during his tenure with the French national team.

Al-Ittihad also considered Herve Renard, whose contract with the France women’s team is set to end after the Olympic Games. Renard, known for his success with various national teams, including winning the Africa Cup of Nations with Zambia and Ivory Coast, was seen as another viable candidate.

One-year hiatus for Blanc

Fabrizio Romano and L’Equipe report that Laurent Blanc is now on the verge of becoming the new Al-Ittihad manager. The agreement between Blanc and Al-Ittihad includes a two-year contract valid until June 2026. There is an option to extend the deal until June 2027.

Blanc will be returning to work after a year off from this position. He took over for Peter Bosz, the departing Dutch manager at Lyon in October 2022. After losing three of their first four games and falling to the last position in the league, the club fired him in September 2023.

Unfortunately, Blanc’s 1.53 points per game is the poorest of any permanent Lyon manager in the previous 25 years. It is worse than even Sylvinho’s brief tenure of nine league matches. The results were also dismal. With the poorest goal differential in Ligue 1 during that season, Les Gones managed one point in four games.