Monday, July 15, 2024

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Arsène Two?

Waving Tricolour (via Nicolas at Pexels)

France has a rich footballing heritage, from players and managers to ideas like those of Jules Rimet and his creation of The World Cup. In a managerial sense, France has threatened to produce a so-called ‘high profile manager' since Arsène Wenger, Gérard Houllier or Didier Deschamps. Many will consider Zinedine Zidane as the answer to this question considering the eleven titles he and his Real Madrid side won between 2016 and 2020, however, many would like to see how he fairs in the future as his achievements thus far are anomalous. With that said this article will explain why there is a lack of widely known French managers and who are the possible heirs to the throne of the aforementioned. 



French football does not have a dogmatic footballing template that managers follow but a concoction of footballing styles coming from countries that surround her. Current examples of these include Christophe Galtier’s Nice who play with a rigid English 4-4-2 and look to counter-attack their opponents, Bruno Génésio’s Spanish like Stade Rennais who have a focus on shapes and tempo or the high pressing Germanic style Philippe Montanier’s Toulouse have adopted. France’s production of high-quality players has likely impacted the lack of a defined French style. Being able to produce high quantities of players will change how a manager thinks about the game. The individual ability that France has produced especially in the forward department has possibly prevented the tactical evolution of the French game.


Ligue 1 brands itself as ‘The League of Talents’, implying a league built for nurturing above all. Having the league branded in such a way has proven not just to be a sustainable model but also a successful one. This style however has displayed the problem that France has in producing elite level managers. The French summer and winter markets tend to produce a high number of turnovers in the playing staff, creating a lack of continuity, especially amongst the top teams barring Paris Saint-Germain. The perennial cycle does not help coaches, leaving them to constantly deal with change in personnel, creating a habit of teaching the same lessons to different students, rather than being able to build a team core to then develop ideas further with players whom you have a long-standing relationship.


Historically speaking, continentally at least, there has not been a sustained period of French dominance. Between 1956 and 1959 Stade de Reims finished as runners-up in two European Cup finals under club legend Albert Batteux and between 1991-1993 Marseille lost and won a European Cup final under the guidance of Belgian Raymond Goethals. France is yet to find its Nereo Rocco, Jock Stein or even José Mourinho; a manager who can lead a team from his home nation to a European Title. Having a manager in such a mould would break barriers for French coaches by making clubs around the world look and consider taking on a French coach. Gérard Houllier and Zinedine Zidane are the only French managers to have won European trophies but a French manager is yet to win a European Trophy with a French club.


There are plenty of French managers proving themselves at a high level. Racing Club de Lens had been away from Ligue 1 since 2009 up until the 2019-20 season, gaining Ligue 1 status via their Ligue 2 runners up medal. The mastermind behind this success was Franck Haise, who had been ‘promoted’ to first-team manager from Lens II in March 2020.


Haise went on to lose his first game away at Nice, but it was the following game at Stade Bollaert-Delelis, versus Paris-Saint-Germain, where eyes became instantly attracted to Lens’ free-flowing football. After a 2-1 tactically astute performance against PSG, Lens would end the 2020-21 season in seventh, just three points away from fifth, scoring fifty-five and conceding fifty-four. Lens currently sit in seventh again, after thirty four games, still scoring and conceding at a high rate. What happens in the future will be interesting as we will see if he chooses to build his vision further or move elsewhere. 


Julien Stéphan became the manager of Stade Rennais in December 2019 following The Bretons’ inconsistent start to the season. Similarly, to Haise, the then 37-year-old had previous experience with the clubs' second team. His philosophy, based on attacking football and fluidity instantly marries perfectly into the Rennais methodology, making him a perfect fit for the role. His approach to games served him well during his time in Brittainy, leading the club to the Coupe de France by beating PSG on penalties (the clubs' first trophy since the 1982-83 season). Stéphan successfully progressed his side into a European knock-out round and by doing so became the first Rennes manager to achieve the feat.


Nowadays he is on the other side of the country with Strasbourg, (funnily enough the birthplace of Arsène Wenger) successfully plying his trade as his side sits in sixth at the time of writing. The job that Stéphan is doing at Strasbourg cannot be underestimated. Strasbourg finished fifteenth last season, outlining the quality of the Le Racing strategy. At just 41 years of age, many believe that Julien Stéphan will be the biggest manager to come through French football since the 2000s.

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