Saturday, July 21, 2012

If names are everything, then why some clubs were at the top and other at the bottom would be unfathomable: by names alone, the relegated clubs did not differ from those at the top of the table. Nancy, Bastia, and Lens traditionally were akin to Angers, Lille, and Rennes, inhabiting the lower half of the table and often going down to second division. And they had just about the same number of better known players as the unfortunates at the bottom. Yet, those three ended at the top. The reason, to my mind, is younger stars spurring experienced squads, unlike the case of the relegated clubs and even most of the stronger French clubs of the recent years, who depended on veterans. Nancy finished at 4th place – just two years back they were playing second division football.

Arguably, Nancy was enjoying their best ever period, but the squad hardly suggests so. May be solid and dependable, but second stringers at best. Except the striker Rouyer. Strangely looking team, begging the question did they play with permanent numbers, as the picture suggests. Curious numbers – Rora is number 1 and he was not a goalkeeper. Novelty apart, there was Michel Platini – already the talk of whole Europe, let alone France, and bound to superstardom. On his wings Nancy flourished – experienced team, led by young star. Nancy clearly benefited from having Platini, managed to finish Saint Etienne, but still remained modest club. 4th place was seemingly the best such a squad can do – Platini was not enough for more, but it was great achievement nevertheless.

Bastia did even better – they finished at third place.

Top row, from left : Petrovic, Cazes, Modeste (non retenu par le club), Andrietti, Burkhard, Orlanducci, Graziani, Santucci, Weller.
Front row : Franceschetti, Zimako, Papi, Félix, Dzajic, Luccini, Marchioni.

Again, the squad does not suggest success. Relatively good selection, no more. But Bastia had the best attack this year, scoring 82 goals, more than anybody else. Defensively, they were not bad by French standards – allowing 53 goals in 38 championship games is rather poor record, so, if numbers are taken into account, then the foreign recruits performed very differently: the Yugoslavian superstar Dragan Dzajic obviously made Bastia's attack deadly, but his teammate of both Crvena zvezda and the national team, Ognjan Petrovic was hardly up to his form of 1976, when he was the first goalie of the Yugoslavian European Championship squad. Numbers are misleading – Dzajic, clearly over the hill, did not last in Bastia. Petrovic, however, played solid goalkeeping. The foreign players obviously helped, but there was one other player – Zimako. Young, modern player. Bastia still had to enjoy their best season, they were ripe and rising.

Top row, from left : Sowinski (entr.), Nédélec, Mujica, Monchiet, Gallou, Leclercq D., Tempet, Hopquin, Marie, Mastroianni, Lhote, Grévin.
Middle row : Bousdira, Krawczyk, Leclercq, Elie, Sab, Synakowski, Flak.
First row : Françoise, Jankovic, Llorens, Locatelli, Marx, Arghirudis, Kaiser.

Lens finished with silver, one of their best performances ever. They also differed a bit from Nancy and Bastia, who just made their good squads and were to harvest the fruits later. Lens already built their squad, it was at its peak. Cup final not long ago, and now – second place in the championship. It was unassuming squad, with distinct Polish flavor: the coach Sowinski, Synakowski, Krawczyk, Stassievitch were all of Polish descent. Add real one – Joachim Marx, the former Polish national player – and it would be that Polish was the language of the locker room. Well, Lens, along with Valenciennes, are traditionally 'Polish' clubs, but this was hardly the reason for the good run. The team had solid defense, with Daniel Leclerq, who may have been a national team player in different time, but now he faced stiff competition – and Jean Mujica, born in Paysandu, Brazil. Younger midfielders – Elie and Bousdira – provided a touch of modern football. The attack looked experienced and deadly – Marx, Jean Arghirudis, who, thanks to his Greek roots, had international experience, playing for Olympiakos (Piraeus) a few years back, and the second foreign player, hailing from Yugoslavia. Slobodan Jankovic not long ago played for the national team of Yugoslavia and was a starter for Crvena zvezda, not an easy job, considering the competition there – Dzajic and the younger brother of Ognjan Petrovic, Vladimir.

Hardly the best of squads, but Lens were at their peak, with enough young starters to provide vim.

Yet, none of the above clubs had the making of great team – as much as they were heralds of positive change, they were also taking advantage of still transitional situation, in which the 'big' clubs were either erring, trapped in old school visions of remodeling squads (Marseille, Nice, Lyon), or not ready yet (Bordeaux), or still trying to find successful formula (Paris SG).