The Lament of Stade de Reims – So nearly the first champions of Europe.
When Olympique de Marseille defeated AC Milan in 1993 – regardless of how tainted that victory may, or may not, have been – it ended decades of enforced patience for French football. It had taken almost 40 years for a French club to win the European Cup. Had fortunes taken a slightly different course in 1956 however, the history of European football’s premier club competition could have been so very different. Instead of Los Blancos of Real Madrid becoming the dominant force of continental football, their place in history may well have been taken by Les Rouge et Blanc of Stade de Reims. A club finishing in a mid-table position in Ligue 1 at the end of the 2018-19 season, newly returned to the top tier of French domestic football after a period of relative inconsequence, drifting around the lower leagues, could have been the swaggering aristocrats of the nascent European competition, rather than one of the sans-culottes lamenting over what might have been. Continue reading →
The trials of Bernard Tapie.
For the French public, the Tour de France is a matter of national pride, and to deliver the home nation success in the three-week event is almost a guarantee of acclaim, regardless of other misdemeanours. In 1983, Bernard Tapie provided the finance and teamed up with disgruntled French hero Bernard Hinault to form the La Vie Claire cycling team named after Tapie’s chain of health stores. ‘The Badger’ had suffered an acrimonious split from Renault-Elf-Gitane team and in in him Tapie saw a man smarting for revenge who could deliver the prestige he so desired. This would be no ‘easy ride’ however, Tapie demonstrated the character to not only contain Hinalut’s fury, but also added the maverick American rider Greg LeMond. In 1985 the team won the Tour with Hinault, and reprised the result the year after with LeMond. Tapie’s finance had created the team, but his dynamism, will to win and ability to hone disparate parts into a cohesive unit had made it triumphant. To his nation, Tapie was a hero. Continue reading →
Bielsa leads French Revolution for Les Marseillaise.
Last weekend, led by their new manager Marcelo Bielsa, Marseille defeated St Ettienne in Le Classique to go two points clear of Bordeaux at the head of Ligue 1 and a full five points in front of oil-rich PSG. After two games without a win, OM have now recorded six straight victories and look a solid contender for Le Championnat.
When Pep Guardiola was considering taking up coaching, he sought out the advice of the man he described as ‘the best manager in the world.’ A man often nicknamed ‘El Loco.’ Undertaking an 11 hour journey to South America seemed very much worthwhile however, as the two men sat and talked long into the night. The apprentice was told of the effects of the job and folklore has it that he was asked “Do you really like blood that much?” It may have seemed an extreme way of warning the younger man of what lay ahead. A few years later, after three league titles, two Champions Leagues and two World Club Cups, when a drained Guardiola exited Barcelona, he understood. The wisdom was borne out. It’s somewhat ironic then that Guardiola’s last match in charge of the Blaugrana was against Athletic Bilbao, managed by El Loco himself, Marcello Bielsa.