In Nick Roche’s debut piece for Get French Football News, he looks at the secrets behind ESTAC Troyes’ success in Ligue 2 this season.
Un, Deux, Troyes
It has been a vintage season for Champagne. No, not Moet, Verve Clicquot or Mumm, but rather for Troyes, the mid-sized town in the heart of the Champagne region, whose team sealed promotion to Ligue 1 on Tuesday, with a 2-1 win at home to Angers.
Troyes have dominated Ligue 2 this season, currently sitting nine points clear of second placed GFC Ajaccio, and boasting both the best attack and the meanest defence in the division. After the game, coach Jean-Marc Furlan spoke of his ‘pride and emotion’ as promotion was wrapped up with four games yet to play. In this article we analyse what have been the core ingredients of such a successful season, and how Troyes may fare on their return to Ligue 1 next year.
Never go back – unless you’re Furlan
As the likes of Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and even Sir Matt Busby found, it is difficult to emulate the success of your first spell in charge, upon your return. Not if you are Jean-Marc Furlan however, who, with his third promotion with the club sealed, has attained legend status in the region.
In 2004, in his first year as manager, Furlan gained promotion to Ligue 1 with Troyes, and kept the team in the top flight for 3 years before departing. Young stars such as Blaise Matuidi, now with Paris St-Germain and Bafetimbi Gomis (Swansea City) came on the scene. After unsuccessful spells at Strasbourg and Nantes, Furlan returned to Troyes in 2010, and just one year later, again got the club promoted back to France’s top flight, despite having one of the smallest budgets in the division. The club reached the semi-finals of the Coupe de France the following year, however could not stave off relegation and had an instant return back to the second tier.
Patience and Stability
Upon relegation, it would have been easy for the club to dispense with Furlan’s services, especially with the club finishing a lowly 10th in Ligue 2 in 2013/14. The President, Daniel Masoni and his board showed courage by sticking with their manager, and have been justly rewarded with promotion, and a probable championship, this season. This success has come in spite of the fact that Furlan was forced to release seven first team regulars at the end of last season, and yet again bring through a new crop of young players.
A balance of youth and experience
Furlan has managed to build a fine alchemy between youth and experience. Of the starting line-up on Tuesday, five players were over 30, with three players 24 or under. Of the veterans, one name stands out – Benjamin Nivet, club captain and Furlan’s eyes and ears on the pitch. Like his manager, the 38-year old playmaker Nivet is in his second spell with the club. As well as his commanding performances from central midfield, Nivet is a galvanising force in the dressing room. He lives and breathes Troyes and is involved in a range of charity work and other activities in the town. His partner in central midfield is a fellow veteran in 34-year-old Guillaume Lacour, who provides the defensive screen and covers for Nivet. This solid and experienced spine, alongside the tremendously talented AS Monaco defensive midfield loanee Jessy Pi, has been instrumental to Troyes’ present success.
At the other end of the scale, 20-year old Corentin Jean is the team’s rising star. The rapid striker is the club’s top scorer this season, having hit 10 goals this season, and terrorised Ligue 2 defences. His performances have not gone unnoticed and he has been watched by a number of top-division clubs. Jean has been capped at national level from under-16 onwards, and recently received his first cap under-21 level.
Resilience and Tenacity
The game against Angers that sealed promotion highlighted the team’s resilience and team spirit, as they overcame a number of setbacks. Without the injured Jean, Troyes went behind in the 31st minute, before having defender Mory Koné sent off at the start of the second half. Troyes rallied and a Nivet penalty and an 84th minute goal from Jean’s replacement, Cameroon striker Henri Bienvenu, gave the 10 men the win, and clinched Furlan’s third promotion. Throughout the season, Troyes have shown tenacity, keeping a remarkable 21 clean sheets in 34 games and coming back from a goal down on five occasions, up to and including the Angers game.
With one of the lowest budgets in Ligue 1 next season, mere survival will represent success. Much will depend on Nivet’s legs lasting, and Furlan will need to recruit wisely over the summer. The club were given a boost when Jean declared he would remain, seeing it as the best place for his future development. With two of last year’s promoted clubs – Lens and Metz, looking likely to make an instant return to Ligue 2, nobody is underestimating the challenge that Troyes face next season. After the Angers game, Furlan disclosed that he has already started preparing for Ligue 1. Let’s hope it will be third-time lucky for Furlan, and another vintage year in Champagne.