Saturday, April 20, 2024

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Strasbourg - BlueCo's Tour De France

RC Strasbourg Alsace logo (via Wikipedia)

With Chelsea's owners BlueCo having now stretched their financial muscle across the Channel and acquired Strasbourg FC, could it be that the new regime's involvement actually marks quite the ending to a good few years of fiscal struggle for Le Racing? 


This comes on top of a massive outlay at Stamford Bridge on an admittedly younger crop of players than Roman Abramovich used to flash his wallet at- although the controversial and, allegedly, engineered purchase of Vitesse Arnhem by friend, former player and fellow businessman Merab Jordanian, was once seen as a ready-made stopping off point for those further down the pecking order at Chelsea. 

Now seemingly on a more stable footing and back in Ligue Un since winning the 2016-17 Ligue 2 title, five years prior to that marked the darkest days in the history of the club, when they were liquidated on July 17th 2011. Racing Club de Strasbourg, as it was then, were removed from the league and AS Cherbourg took their place.

After being rebranded as RC Strasbourg Alsace, they were permitted to enter the CFA 2 Group C- the fifth tier of French football, winning it and in the process helping themselves to 100- yes, you did read that right- points. Fittingly, who should be back in charge for the start of their rise up the pyramid but former player Duguépéroux, for a third spell as manager which would surprisingly end after he'd got them as far as Ligue 2. Former Ajaccio man Thierry Laurey then stepped in and got them back among the bigger boys with a final day win over Bourg- Péronnas.

Fifteenth place and a statement win over PSG probably represented the stuff of dreams given what they'd been through to scale such heights once more. The next season built upon those dreams when bringing a fourth League Cup triumph, as Guingamp were dispatched 4-1 on penalties. However, after another fifteenth place finish in 2020/21, Laurey was eased out in favour of ex- Rennes boss Julian Stéphan, who got them up to sixth in his first full season before January of this year found him plumbing the depths of nineteenth place and getting the sack. 

Former Metz manager Frédéric Antonetti got them to safety but then left by mutual consent after the announcement of BlueCo's purchase of the club and the subsequent appointment of Patrick Vieira this past July. Club President, Marc Keller, was just as keen to welcome the new investors as they were to be on board going by his statement on the matter...

“It’s something my shareholder friends and I have been thinking about for the past two years. We’ve built a club that’s healthy at every level and well managed.


Although there was no financial urgency, we were aware that we had reached the ceiling of our model, and if we wanted to continue driving Racing forward and projecting it into a new dimension, we necessarily needed to be accompanied by a solid structure capable of supporting our development and our ambition.


I am therefore delighted of the perspective to welcome a new strategic investor, with whom we would accelerate the club’s ambition to build the Racing of tomorrow”.

And it must be said that ambition looks to be steadily gathering pace, as they currently occupy eleventh spot in Ligue Un, on ten points from eight games so far this season- three wins, one draw and four defeats, suggesting they're in safe hands for the first time in a while. 

Vieira, in the dugout at Stade de la Meinau following his dismissal by Crystal Palace, will be supported by former midfielder Marc Keller (who retains his place behind the scenes after selling up). During 1991-96 he scored 35 goals in 149 games for Strasbourg, before a move to Germany with Karlsruher. Following his retirement as a player, he immediately returned to the club and had spells as director of football and chief scout before another comeback in June of 2012, as part of a consortium which bought the club from former owner Frédéric Sitterlé, each member paying a single Euro for the privilege!

In a sense it’s full circle for Keller after his initial departure on a free transfer in the summer of '96. The Bosman ruling hit hard as Frank Lebouf and Alexander Mostovoi also left for pastures new after a narrow defeat by PSG in the 1995 Coupe De France final. They did at least snaffle themselves a first trophy in eighteen years, when beating Bordeaux on penalties in the 1997 Coupe de la Ligue final under the first tenure of Jacky Duguépéroux. Although, within a year he would be gone, following the IMG-McCormack Group's summer '97 takeover of the club (helmed by former tennis pro Patrick Proisy).

This period in the club's increasingly tangled history attracted the attention of the Strasbourg city prosecutors in 2006, accusations of forgery and misuse of club assets alleged in relation to the transfers of the likes of Mario Haas and Gonzalo Belloso. The manager at the time, Claude Le Roy, got off with a fine while Proisy copped a ten-month suspended sentence after being found guilty of operating “a system whereby false billing allowed then-owners of the club, the British branch of IMG, and various other intermediaries to syphon off the commissions on players’ transfers, to the detriment of the club.” 

By which time it may not surprise you to learn both IMG and Proisy had left, a full three years before the case ever got to trial! On the pitch hadn't been much better in the interim, the 2000-01 season ending in the drop after managing to lodge themselves firmly in the bottom three literally all campaign long. That being said, they somehow found enough in what was clearly a flagging tank to win another French Cup by beating Amiens on penalties, the winner netted by none other than Paraguayan cult hero and keeper José Luis Chilavert.

Having inevitably changed manager in the aftermath, they would bounce straight back up, Ivan Hašek leading the charge via a second-place finish in Ligue 2. Proissy and IMG beat a retreat as Keller returned in a director- general capacity while the new owners got on with the mucky business of clearing up the finances. Again a domestic trophy win, this time the 2005 League Cup courtesy of a 2-1 win over Caen, papered over the cracks prior to yet another relegation, though they did go on quite the run to the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup before Basel dumped them out 4-2 on aggregate.

More upheaval would follow in the boardroom as Philippe Ginestet took the ownership reins in time for Les Bleu et Blanc's centenary, making something of a statement in appointing Jean-Pierre Papin as manager. His sole season in charge ended in another promotion back to Ligue Un after a third place finish, though he would soon depart- citing friction with the men upstairs as one of the main reasons for his decision.

The pendulum swung once more under successor Jean-Marc Furlan, an unwanted slice of histoire made in racking up eleven consecutive defeats in the final weeks of the 2007-08 season, a post- war record for French football. He remained in his post following the drop but was quickly dismissed after finishing fourth and missing out on another promotion, Ginestet stepping down as chairman while remaining as majority shareholder.

What followed beggars belief, even in a rags to relative riches tale like this. The new chairman, Léonard Specht, re-appointed club legend Gilbert Gress as manager, the man who led Strasbourg to their only Ligue Un title in 1979. However, an opening day defeat by Chateauroux proved a tipping point as Gress physically attacked Ginestet!

Gress was unsurprisingly sacked, which prompted Specht's own resignation and Ginestet taking the helm once more- chaos reigning as a second successive relegation into the Championnat National followed. Within weeks came the liquidation and demotion to the fifth tier, which is a far cry from where RC Strasbourg now find themselves. Instead the question for their present day fans is how optimistic can they be about BlueCo and Vieira…

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