Monday, July 23, 2012

Who was ready, then? Obviously, the champions. Truism...

FC Nantes won its 4th title, not bad for relatively young club. Les Canaris (The Canaries) have 1943 as their founding year, but just their often changing logo, the birthdate is a bit confusing. Five small local clubs merged in 1943 into FC Nantes. The reasons for the merger were obvious: it was realized that the city would not have strong team as long as resources are divided. If the city was to see any success, better having one big club. Hence, the merger, but nothing happened right away – the Second World War was going on. Nothing happened immediately after the end of the war as well, but eventually FC Nantes moved ahead and progressed to the First Division, where it not only stayed, but came to play major role, thanks to the stable policy of the club: between 1960 and 1976 they had one and only coach , Jose Aribas. He built the team and won three titles. It may have been his genes: Aribas was Basque, born in Bilbao, who came to France with his parents when he was 14 years old. The reason was the Spanish Civil War of course, but let's not forget the stubborn tradition – in Bilbao local loyalty is everything; to this very day Athletic uses only local Basque players. Stability brought something else as well – Nantes became famous for their collective spirit. Such attitude helped particularly after 1970: with the arrival of total football, collectivity became very important, for it was essential ingredient of the new brand of the game. By default, FC Nantes were better conditioned than most European clubs for the new game – it was not exactly total football, but workable approximation. Well balanced team, sound transfers, stability, collectivity – the Canaries immediately became the rivals of Saint Etienne and during the 1970s French football was dominated by St. Etienne and Nantes. The rivalry favoured St. Etienne, but Nantes performed solidly and evenly year after year, and were he second best French club of the decade. They won heir third title in 1973 and now, with a new coach, they won their 4th. The new coach was former star – Jean Vincent, of Stade de Reims fame. Clout he had, but also he was good coach. His debut brought immediate triumph and more was to come. He inherited already strong squad and continued improving it.

Some canaries, no? Standing, from left : Gadocha, Le Bourgocq, Van Straelen, Denoueix, Pecout, Fenillat, Tusseau, Bossis, Bertrand-Demanes, Sahnoun, Michel.
Crouching : Osman, Desrousseaux, Bargas, Baronchelli, Vendrely, Oscar Muller, Rampillon, Amisse, Merigot, Jean Vincent (coach).

Henri Michel was the star, of course – the best playmaker of the decade, regular national team player, strong captain of Nantes. Bertrand-Demanes developed into arguably the best goalkeeper of those years, and perhaps reached his peak at precisely that time, for he was the regular keeper of the national team. Add well known and experienced players, who already won the championship in 1972-73: Pecout, Rampillon, Osman, Bargas. Hugo Bargas was not called to play for his native Argentina after the 1974 World Cup, but he was the key player of the yellow-green defense. Another Argentine was added as well – Oscar Muller, but really the second foreign starter was Robert Gadocha.

The Polish winger, who came to international fame at the 1974 World Cup, was not young at all, but still lethal striker. The skeleton of fine veterans, none fading yet, was very well balance – every line had strong players. Young blood was carefully added to experience, and what new blood it was! Bossis, Tusseau, Amisse... all three played for France almost at that time. Sahnoun and Van Straelen were very promising as well and another future national team player is missing from the picture – Michel Bibard. With squad like that, FC Nantes obviously was bound to stay on top of French football in the future. The only problem was that they looked like a bit weaker than the stars of St. Etienne – second best.

Second best, if St. Etienne were at top form... the rivals were not this year, and Nantes were head and shoulders above everybody else. They won the title with more than confidence: they were supreme, finishing 9 points ahead of the silver medalists. May be their finest season ever.