Monday, May 28, 2007

Ligue 1 wrap-up - offsideintahiti

The suspense is over... since mid-November actually, when Lyon had their sixth consecutive title in the bag and were able to concentrate properly on yet another early failure in Europe. They duly obliged, and let Roma go on to bigger things in the Champions League, while they focused on going through the motions at home and, in the end, did just enough to leave their nearest rivals, Marseille, 17 points behind. These two will represent France in the Champions League next year, but, as ever, it's impossible to guess how many of their current squads will have heeded the sirens' calls of more glamourous leagues by then. Lyon seem to have secured the ongoing services of their Brazilian spine, with Cris, Juninho and Fred staying on the banks of the Rhône, but are likely to lose Abidal, Malouda, Clerc, Govou, Wiltord, and possibly others. In Marseille, the main question marks hang over their three youngsters, Frank Ribéry, Samir Nasri, and Nigerian left-back with a missile launcher for a left foot, Taye Taiwo.

The first certainty for Lyon is that Gérard Houllier will not be steering them to their next early spring European disaster. The ex-Liverpool manager has resigned by his own mutual consent on the same day that Didier Deschamps was being resigned by the exclusive mutual consent of the Juventus board, presumably as a thank you gesture for taking the Old Lady straight back up to Serie A for his first season in charge, and in spite of a heavy points deduction. A straight swap is highly unlikely, but Deschamps is now perceived as a strong candidate for the Lyon job, while Houllier will probably disappear into the Australian bush. Unless Marseille snatch Deschamps, in a move that would see the man who captained them to their only European success (in 93) at the helm of the club for next season's Champions League campaign, with long-term caretaker manager, Albert Emon, returning to the club's youth set-up. Alain Perrin, of Premiership fame and who guided Sochaux to victory in the French cup and 7th place in the league, is also said to be interested in the Lyon job.

Unsurprisingly, most of the excitement this season was to be found further down the table. Much further down. Big guns Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain gave the phrase "squeaky bum" a whole new meaning by flirting dangerously with the drop zone for long periods. Both had to take drastic action and change managers mid-way through. Paul LeGuen managed to salvage his own career and the club's immediate future with an impressive late run which saw PSG finish in 15th after briefly touching rock-bottom for the first time ever. Monaco fired their Hungarian coach, Laszlo Boloni, early in the season after a disastrous start and put their trust in Laurent Banide, a young, unproven manager, who steadied the ship and eventually cruised comfortably into 9th place.

Sadly, another monument of French football was not so lucky. After fourty-four years in the top flight, eight titles and numerous cups, FC Nantes will be playing in Ligue 2 next season. A deep shock for a club whose name had come to define flowing, attacking football in France, with the expression "le jeu à la Nantaise" being a synonym for one-touch football. The enrollment of Fabien Barthez in the second half of the season smacked of desperate measures, and the episode summed up the club's woes, with the French goalkeeping legend letting in soft goals, walking out on his teammates in the middle of a game, and ultimately being chased out of the stadium, and away from the club, by angry fans. Those same angry fans who invaded their home pitch in protest four minutes from the end of the penultimate game of the season, demanding the board's resignation and, in the process, unwittingly producing the biggest shock of all. On the pitch, Nantes and Toulouse had been locked in a tedious 0-0 draw. The referee was unable to restart the game, the French FA stuck to the letter of the law and, despite the game being almost over at the time of the interruption, awarded Toulouse the 3 points, handing them an unbelievable lifeline and a huge psychological boost in their floundering quest for 3rd place and the preliminary round of the Champions League.

Last Saturday, at kick-off, the four teams vying for 3rd place were within two points of each other, with Lens (3rd) travelling to an already relegated Troyes, Rennes (5th) visiting a disappointing Lille, who had nothing to play for, and Toulouse (6th) and Bordeaux (4th) going head to head in the French capital of Rugby. The much coveted podium spot changed hands no less than five times in the course of the evening. Lens, who had spent more than two thirds of the season in the top 3, quickly fell behind at Troyes, and got their full-back Marco Ramos sent-off in the first half, which pretty much extinguished their challenge. Bordeaux went 1-0 up in Toulouse through their Brazilian Wendel, and hopped onto the podium.

Toulouse, however, refused to lie down. Their international strike force sprung into action, with Brazilian Paulo César and Cameroon international Achille Emana combining to provide Swedish center forward Johan Elmander for a spectacular hat-trick. With less than twenty minutes to go, le Stadium went crazy (yes, the Toulouse stadium is called le Stadium, that's its name), only to learn three minutes later that Rennes had opened the scoring in Lille. John Utaka had just propelled the club from Brittany into 3rd place for the first time in the whole season and into Champions League football for the first time ever. Now, if there is a right time to clinch that qualifying spot, a quarter of an hour from the end of the championship is certainly it. A nervous final fifteen minutes ensued, with the Rennes players, staff, and officials lining up along the touchline, getting ready to celebrate.

At the end of normal time, Rennes were well in control and even missed a good chance to kill the tie. At the end of the fourth minute of stoppage time, however, they conceded a free-kick at a distance that, at first glance, looked safe enough. From forty yards out, Obraniak floated it in and Fauvergue, who had come on late as a substitute, rose unchallenged to send a looping header over the stranded Rennes goalkeeper and, probably much to his surprise as a Lille player, score the most important goal in the history of Toulouse Football Club. The Rennes players buried their heads in the grass, the city of Toulouse partied all night. Toulouse finish the season in 3rd on 58 points, with Rennes, Lens, Bordeaux, and Sochaux all tied on 57. Who said French club football couldn't be exciting, sometimes?

In summary, Champions League spots go to Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse (whose only European claim to fame so far had been to knock-out Diego Maradona's Napoli on penalties in an early round of the UEFA cup in 1986). Nantes, Troyes and Sedan will play next season in Ligue 2. They will be replaced in the top flight by Metz, Caen and Racing Club de Strasbourg, who made it in spite of their manager being in charge for his very first season in the business. You may want to look out, next year, for the club from Alsace and this young, enthusiastic, attack-minded coach by the name of Jean-Pierre Papin.

36 comments:

pipita said...

Fantastique mon ami!!!!!!! An Offside classic..Learnt a lot about a league we do not get to see over here. Left me wondering, how come Lyon flop so badly every year in the CL?? What was their best performance?? They have such good players. No mention og Gallardo, but you evoked that Tolouse team of Tarantini and Marcico which we have tgalked about in the past. Lastly, Racing de Strasbourg are completely unconnected to Enzo's Matra Racing, Non?? They are from Paris, I wonder if they still exist. Merci beaucoup

paulita said...

I've heard/read so much about nasri and seen so little... I'm just so curious. and youtube isn't enough, I want to see proper games.

I don't know if pipita will agree but for most of us over here ribery was a pleasant surprise at the world cup.

by the way, gracias, muchas, offside!

how long before the next?

greengrass said...

Dear Professor Offy,
lovely to see a report from one of the minor leagues - a timely poke in the emaciated, myopic underbelly of les rosbiffs, overly concerned as they are with their "Premier League" and "le beeg four".

I was surprised and happy to observe your excellent article, knowing full well how much time and energy you - nay, we! - expend on our revelations from the Pakalolo Tavern and other hostelries outrageously omitted from the Guide Michelin.

Now you are to visit your native sod, solely and exclusively for the purpose of gathering information, the better to further the education
of the avid readers of these esteemed pages.

One fervently hopes that your visit will also provide some linguistic bon mots for our delectation in days to come.

Mon ami, you are a martyr to the cause - bon voyage and Dog speed!

Yours in science,

Piaget

file said...

formidable!

this is a great review Offie, stories of proximity, pain and passion really bring this run-in alive.

go Toulouse, and go Derby too!

What will happen to Deschamps now that he's not at-tache?

guitougoal said...

offside,
Thank you for this very clever and knowledgeable overview of the championnat.Monsieur Jacques Ferran couldn't have done it better, if one day you choose to spend your life wherever or whenever there is a football event to cover, there is no question you designated seat should be in the pressrooms and press boxes.
It's not the best of times for Nantes, it's the best of times for Toulouse.The fall and the public humiliation of Barthez, the raise of Nasri walking on water sur le vieux port de Marseille , everything is well covered, you didn't describe it you narrated it.
The temptation to mention Nice must have been enticing but what is to say about a team finishing
next to last?
I have a request for you,could you please send me a postcard from Nice with the view of the stade du Ray? The memory of the great Just Fontaine starting his professional career on this pitch give me the goose-bumps.
btw:I agree with you about Abidal and Malouda on their way out from Lyon and hope that Deschamps doesn't walk in this revolving door work place-

guitougoal said...

I meant "doesn't walk into this revolving door MANAGERS workplace."

mimi said...

don't really get any of this, but for some reason I read this and what I think is "another velvet morning".
Why?

offside said...

Bonjour à tous,

and thanks for coming and commenting. Many thanks to Monsieur le Rédacteur en chef for the proofreading and corrections.

Of course, there was a lot more to say about a fairly eventful season, but I tried to keep it short(ish).

Pipita, I didn't mention Gallardo because he spent more time on the bench than on the pitch. To be fair to him, he arrived late in the season, a bit short of full fitness, in a club on the verge of meltdown. So Le Guen went for a commando formation and only used the Argentine fantasista late on in games. Hopefully, we'll see more of him next season.

Matra Racing were indeed from Paris and have now disappeared. Guitou might be able to tell you more about that.

Paulita,

Nasri is indeed the most exciting young prospect in France at the moment. Great first touch, fine vision, superb passing, surprising maturity for a 19 year old. Lacks physical power but more than makes up for it with brilliant technique. A proper number 10, now, if that isn't exciting, I don't know what is. He's in the France squad for the next Euro qualifiers, I don't know if you can catch that on TV, otherwise I'll just have to write about it.

gg,

the Offside Definitive Guide to French Wacky Taverns should be completed when I return. All in the name of science, of course.

file,

sorry, didn't get the at-tache joke (?), but loved your poem next door. People, go and read that.

Guitou

OGCN Nice (sigh)... They really had us worried all season, but eventually, as we thought all along, they were too good to go down. They have just confirmed Antonetti as coach for next season, but I'm afraid the board-room problems will be disruptive, again. I'm also worried they might lose their Tahitian pearl Vahirua, and their young and brilliant goalkeeper, Hugo Loris. I don't know if they do postcards of Stade du Ray, it's hardly an architectural wonder, but full of memories for you and me.

Mimi,

you got me there.

zeph said...

Offside, as you know my knowledge of football is about the same as your knowledge of cricket, but I'm hugely impressed by how professional this piece is.

Hope you get a good film to watch on the plane!

offside said...

Zeph, cheers.

I hope we get 3 good movies on each flight!

guitougoal said...

offside,
regarding Pipita's question I don't know of any relationship between matra racing and Strasbourg.. Matra racing enjoyed many successes in the 60's particulary in F2 and F3 - in F1 also with Sir Jackie Stewart at the wheel.
Their short relationship with the Racing club of Paris last only 2 or 3 years and RCFP became an amateur football team.

paulita said...

offside

I believe espn is already advertising that. hopefully I'll get to do both, see nasri in action and read your reports :)

pipita said...

Thanks for that info Guitou. Quite amazing, thety lasted only 3 years in top flight?? Apart from Enzo they had Fernandez, Littbarski, Ruben Paz...As for your question about River's current form and el burrito...no comment. Yesterday they won 3-0 away, and it made no difference to me. That says it all
Offy
Yeah, lets hope dear ol Muñeco Gallardo can reproduce his Monaco and River performances next season

DoctorShoot said...

Offside
great piece.
makes me pine for euroculture here in this little pacific exile...
we have the chair warm for the frenchman and ready to go....

guitougoal said...

pipita,
During the late 50's ,early 60's,the Racing club de Paris had more international players than any other french team;
Vignal, Cisowski. Yeso Amalfi (a brazilian who played for Bocca),Ujlaki,Marche, Happel-I remember their pre-season tournament at the Parc des princes, I saw the great Santos f.c with Pele, Arsenal, Juventus, Di Stefano Real Madrid it was fantastic times-
Later in the 80's Lagardere their president (owner of Matra) and a nostalgic of the glorious era of the Racing spent a fortune for a revival of the team acquiring:
Enzo Francescoli, Fernandez, Ginola, Bossis, Olmetta, Larque , another generation of internationals-It turned out to be a financial disaster-Matra stoped funding and walked away hence the fall of Racing- It's a pathetic story which should make your River situation look like a fairy tale in comparison.

marcela said...

"what shall we do now the football's over... "?

orsay - discovering your writing has been one of the undisputed highlights of the season, in my book.

in the words of juan sasturain: this game is infinite. after the recess, we start all over.

here's to sharing more leagues, from all over the world, next time!!

and BTW - watch out for the actual nouveau trophee Ligue 1; designed by Pablo Reinoso, an Argentinian artist, and a mate :)

pipita said...

Guitou
Yeah, off course I remember now. It seems you actually supported Racing. Who do you support there by the way?? and you Offy?? Dont think the pair of you ever mentioned where your football allegiances lie

guitougoal said...

pipita,
- growing up near Paris,we were parisians during the week end. Racing was the pride of all parisians, some of us still didn't get over the frustration caused by the fall of the racing-
now living in LA the asshole of the world i am a distant fan -St Etienne in France-Arsenal because one of their ex player is a close friend of the family and I had tickets to highbury every timeI visited euroope- But most of all I enjoy watching any good game without taking side because you see and read the game better,

pipita said...

Guitou
Did you already support StEntienne in the seventies?? You always leave me in suspense!!!! Off course Im curiuos about that former Arsenal player!!Give us a clue...Imagine he is French.

greengrass said...

guitou,
I'm sorry to read of the fall of Parisian racing.
Couldn't Parisians watch greyhounds instead - or has offside put them all in a stew?

pipita said...

Very much dobut that professor Greengrass...From my humble knowledge its only the brits who enjoy watching dogs race

greengrass said...

pipita,
I'm not sure that anyone enjoys watching a bunch of anorectic mutts tear-arse round a track - but you can bet on the races...

guitougoal said...

gg,
greyhound in a stew for fast food!
pipita,
the names can't be dropped but orsay will tell you in the future about his restaurant in cannes
offside,
'undisputed highlight of the season" from Marcela!
gros melon is going to cost you for baggage surplus..and more from me in pastis, "cela s'arrose"!

pipita said...

GG
You should add that those anorectic mutts are actually chasing a metal rabbit...Good point about the betting, thats all that counts in any animal races after all. My parents, horse racing freaks, will disinherit me for saying such things...
Guitou
Common!!Stop playing misteryous and drop that name. Your doing this on purpose, I knew it!! and what in blazers does orsay's restaurant in Cannes(????) got to do with this

greengrass said...

pipita -
true, the mutts were into metal long before we were.

As for betting, some people back home
in Deep Lancashire even bet on crown green bowling - which reminds me that I promised myself I'd write an article for these very pages on that glorious sport...

pipita said...

GG
Would definetly enjoy a piece of yours on that sport professor, especially because I dont have the faintest idea of whats it all about. How about also writing a piece on the experiences of a stretford ender in the golden age of Law and Bestie

greengrass said...

pipita -
since you're crossing threads, I'll answer here.

I'll get back on the crown green bowling, but I don't think I'll write a piece on the glory days on the Stretford End, since it would just be a naming of great names and then stating the obvious - that they were a joy to behold.

I was a few months older than George Best, so I got to see him regularly before I went to university in London - then irregularly afterwards.

I checked on his biography before writing this post, and was happy to read that he - a Protestant kid from that torn city of Belfast - played for both the Jewish Guild of South Africa and (Catholic) Hibernian FC. There's a parallel somewhere in there with another entertainer who has given me a whole lot of pleasure through the years - Van Morrison.

MotM said...

Jean-Pierre Papin to Van Morrison - why I love it here in six words.

Great to read this but sad to think of the predatory chequebooks of the Prem, La Liga and Serie A hovering over the talent.

Offside - you'll be lifting the first Martini of the evening sur La Croissettes right now, but if you get this message, merci for all the writing. See you back here I hope, on your return from the East Coast of Portugal.

pipita said...

GG, Mouthy
Just found this gem on youtube: Bestie scoring for hibs against Celtic

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVT-cgqKJsE

pipita said...

Didnt Bestie actually support Rev Paisley?? Actually I think that because of this it was feared the IRA had him on a list, so, whilst the rumour lasted, he would be running around like crazy on the pitch, just in case...

greengrass said...

pipita -
that link brought tears to me eyes!

Not sure about George's politics, but he turned out for Hibs - I can't see Paisley doing somnething like that...

MotM said...

Bestie not in peak physical condition there I notice, but hey - did it matter?

pipita said...

Good point GG. Glad you enjoyed the clip. Typical Bestie movement and shot that one, and he must have been in his mid-30's by then

marcela said...

why i love it here in one youtube link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxw98-SBhGo

posted by a certain dj one cold night in a pakalolo tavern on the east coast of portugal...

gg, i'm sure you will enjoy it!

MotM said...

Marcela - I didn't like that song.. until that clip.

Thanks.

greengrass said...

Marcela -
thanks for furthering my musical education by showing me those two glorious, fumbling maestros in full bloom!

That clip - and Lord Wrigley's signings - made my morning...

Tweet it, digg it