Where has the magic gone?
After 7 games this season, Nantes camps at the 18th place of the Ligue 1 table. The “Canaris” were prepared for a difficult kickoff this season, but did not anticipate to be in such a dreadful position early on. You must admit, the Atlantic coastal club had some ups and downs in the last ten years: relegation to the second division, ban from transfers for a year and a half, a satisfactory promotion to the elite and a stable place at the mid-range of the Ligue 1. But something went wrong.
In the summer Michel Der Zakarian – the forger of last year’s results had been replaced by former Montpellier coach René Girard. Speaking of enthusiasm, the public did not roll the red carpet: more than 1000 signatures were collected in a petition protesting the eventual appointment of the new manager. The hashtag #ToutSaufGirard, meaning #AnybodyButGirard had a long run on social media platforms, as supporters proclaimed “Girard is the death of football”, describing the man “an antipathic character who goes against the values of the club”. Their fears seem more or less confirmed: Nantes won one game in seven, scored three goals, but what is worse, the game plan seems to have eroded significantly.
This was not always the case.
As strange as it sounds, Nantes has won more championships than the actual monarch Paris Saint-Germain (8 vs 6). Their brightest era fell in the ‘60s-’70s, then two separate periods during the nineties entered into history. The common trait in these periods was a distinguished way of playing offensive, dynamic football. They even found a name to describe it: the “jeu á la nantaise”, a concept so strong that even a local musical band bears the name. But what is “jeu á la nantaise”?
Short answer: we don’t exactly know. While speaking about tiki-taka, totaalvoetbal and catenaccio we tend to have a specific image in mind with a roughly precise description, the “jeu á la nantaise” is rather an umbrella-term that combines a successful era with a distinctive way of playing football. To understand its true meaning, we need to check the club’s three most successful coaches in detail.
José Arribas is the starting point of the term mostly because he was the first to integrate his ideas on the pitch, and – more importantly – had been the tutor of two of his players and late successors: Jean-Claude Suaudeau and Raynald Denoueix.
The Spaniard of Basque origins fled the civil war into Nantes. Appointed in 1960, he remained the club’s number one man until 1976, winning several titles on the way. He found true inspiration from the Brazilian national team and Bill Shankly’s Liverpool.
Arribas was the first manager in France to throw away the libero and man marking-concept, turning toward zonal marking and a 4-2-4 tactical formation with an offside trap. An incredible amount of playing volume, speed and complementarity between players defined Arribas’ style. “Movement is our motto. No stopping, it’s completely forbidden to receive the ball standing.” – he said.
Jean-Claude Suaudeau came out from under the cloak of José Arribas and gained tremendous success in the first half of the nineties. In the 1994/95 season his team remained unbeaten for 32 games, a record sustained until last year and ditched by Paris Saint-Germain.
“Coco” Suaudeau’s team lacked true playmakers. There was no equivalent of Modric, Xavi or Pirlo, but in exchange, his team consisted of dashing and dynamic players. The compositon of the group defined the game with a spine of Karembeu, Ferri, Pedros, Loko, Ouédec, N’Doram and Makélélé, and later on, the actual Bordeaux coach, Jocelyn Gourvenec.
Tactically it consisted of a 4-1-4-1 line-up, but as Suaudeau was fond of saying “it’s not the lineup that matters, but the animation”. According to the coach, the technical handicap was compensated with physique and speed. The team had the capacity to build up to shooting position with only 4 or 5 one-touch passes. As an example, just look at this beauty, one of the most memorable goals in Ligue 1 history.
Like a pinball-machine: simple, fast, sometimes terribly spontaneous, but executed at ease. This dynamite-type game, based on constant motion shows some similarities to Klopp’s Dortmund or Ranieri’s Leicester, rather than the Brazilian joga bonito. That year, blooming Nantes snuck into the Champions League as the dark horse of the tournament and laid down the arms in the semi-final against the mighty Juventus.
Raynald Denoueix spent his whole carreer at FC Nantes and became a prominent coach at the club’s youth academy. After winning two national cups, he conquered the Ligue 1 at the end of his three-year term. Players like Landreau, Da Rocha, Carriere, Monterrubio, Armand, Vahirua and Moldovan emerged as the craftsmen of this success.
Under Denoueix, the team applied a rather different playing method, more focused on possession, with still lots of movement and anticipation. In the absence of strong, dynamic players, he was forced to enhance technical skills and opted for a more settled game plan. The difference between his team and the triumphant one of the preceding years was easy to spot.
This divergence from Coco’s band was not approved unanimously. When asked about the Nantes of Denoueix, Suaudeau said “[Denoueix’s] priority is to get the ball and keep it for a longer period of time. This is the disease of the game today, in my opinion. That’s why the game is getting boring and it’s pissing me off.”
Different styles and different times: the jeu á la nantaise is more of a brand. It defines an offensive way of play, with short, quick passes, constant movement and technical precision, and at the core: risk-taking and pure simplicity. On a more philosophical level, it embodies an attitude to look through individuality and push out the boundaries of collectivity. It gathers different styles under one roof, but includes the glorious Nantes-years: 8 titles, 3 domestic cups and more than 100 European appearances.
After that, it’s quite obvious why supporters don’t find a fit between the legacy and René Girard’s project.
Despite the league title in 2012, teams of René Girard tend to have an austere, risk-averse mindset. His basic principle lays on the protection of his own cage. Everything starts with the defense. His teams are built from the back, setting up a concrete bunker in the first step.
With Girard, the show is not happening on the pitch, but on the bench: he is no stranger to profanity towards referees or his own players. What is not reflected in the quality of game is replaced by aggressiveness, enthusiasm and devotion. No wonder why he is listed as the master of clean sheets or one-goal victories. Leading as a guerilla leader is his true form of expression, not designing works of art.
Girard is simply the wrong person in the wrong place. Which does not mean he is a lousy coach, but his methods differ considerably from his predecessors. His palette focuses more on whips over compasses and rulers. Most recently, as his team struggled to achieve their first victory of the season, he tried to motivate his team saying “if we have to play like bastards, then we will play like bastards”. The result did not conclude anything, as Nantes drew 1-1 at the home of Nancy. Since then, the „bastards” drew against Saint-Étienne, then lost against a quite soft Marseille.
Magic has not yet come back to the Canaris. There is a great chance the marriage between Girard and Nantes ends in a bad divorce. Due to the unpleasant start – preceded by the discontent of supporters – it is possible their paths will go their separate ways sooner than time would justify.
A fenti cikkem a French Football Weekly oldalon jelent meg 2016. szeptember 30-án.