FEATURE: How Jean Luc Vasseur’s sacking became inevitable

After Claude Makelele and Alain Casanova, Jean-Luc Vasseur became the 3rd Ligue 1 manager this season to be removed from his position. The principal reason being Reims’ poor run of form (one win in 12 League games in 2015) making them a serious candidate for relegation.

Just like the other aforementioned individuals, this was Vasseur’s first job in the French top tier (he previously coached the PSG reserves and Créteil, a South-East Paris side plying its trade in Ligue 2). Analysing Vasseur’s first season as Ligue 1 manager, his dismissal comes after several close shaves with the axe already this campaign.

Reims previously experienced poor form earlier this season. On the opening day, Vasseur earned a 2-2 draw at home to PSG but this promising result was followed by defeats to Saint-Etienne (1-3), Caen (0-2) and Lens (2-4) which put Reims close to the bottom in 19th. The board did not sack him though as it was too early in the season (late August) and the new man was just getting accustomed to life in the top tier. Jean Pierre Caillot decided that time will tell if this string of three straight losses would prove a trend or a sloppy start. It was the latter as Reims then went on to win two games against Toulouse (2-0) and Lorient (1-0 away), ironically the two sides that are currently separating Reims from the drop.

Tense moment #2 for Vasseur came straight after with two heavy defeats (0-5 against Marseille and 0-3 at Metz) which put Reims back in 19th but the corner was once again turned with a great run of 6 wins, 3 draws and 2 defeats from late September till the winter break where Reims were sitting pretty in 9th. Relegation was certainly not a concern when Christmas came along; indeed Reims were looking to consolidate a solid mid-table position.

However, the consolidation never came. Reims started 2015 with 8 games without a win (4 draws and 4 defeats) before the year’s solitary win against Nantes (3-1) in early March. Three defeats later, the axe fell after a 1-3 defeat at Lille. While losing at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy this season is nothing to be ashamed of (4th best home team in the league) Caillot felt that Vasseur had lost the dressing room, that his message was becoming more and more unclear as the games came and went and that a change of management would ensure safety come late May.

Caillot has a point. Early on, Vasseur used severial variances of the 4-5-1 (4-4-1-1 and 4-2-3-1) but his starting eleven began to change on a weekly basis and he switched formations in the last few months which just did not suit himself or the players (4-4-2 or 3-5-2, he even tried the very negative 5-4-1). As a result, the defending was less compact and the midfield not solid enough in a league where the other teams play primarily with a 3-man midfield.

Furthermore Vasseur seemed to carry less and less self-belief as time went on. In his last press conference at Lille, Vasseur said he was still confident that a win would come from somewhere but he came across as out-of-sorts and generally did not know which way to turn. He certainly did not want to resign – such an act would have been an admission that he was not good enough for Ligue 1 – and so the decision was taken once Caillot saw the difference between the manager’s words and the players’ body language.

His successor is his assistant manager, Olivier Guégan. Not unlike Vasseur, he has no experience at managing a Ligue 1 club – though he has been with Reims for a considerable 6 years. He came to Reims back in 2009 for his last season as a player and had been assistant manager of Hubert Fournier (now Lyon manager and doing a splendid job of it), then reserve team coach and back to assistant manager this time for Vasseur.

Guégan does not possess his coaching badges and has not been given any indication whether he will be Reims manager next season. The only thing Caillot let us speculate on was that if he does manage to keep the club up then he could keep the job for next season. Make of that what you will.

Now Reims are not in a terrible position with seven games to go. They are three points clear of Toulouse with a better goal difference (-16 compared -19) and their run-in is manageable (aside from a last day trip to the Parc des Princes meaning that Reims will want to be safe come the final whistle of the penultimate round of fixtures). Forthcoming games against fellow strugglers Nice, Bastia and Evian are winnable and will ensure the club a spot in next season’s top tier.

Historically, Reims is a club that is often praised for its illustrious past in the 15 years that followed World War II (1945-1960). Indeed, Reims did manage 2 Champions’ League finals against Real Madrid (1956 and 1959, both lost) 6 league titles (the last one being in 1962) and 2 Coupes de France (1950 and 1958) by playing spectacular, one-touch football that is still talked about today (a short corner is still called “corner à la rémoise” in France). However, Reims went through administration in the 1980s and had to establish a new club from scratch to get back where it is now: 2012 marked the end of a 33-year top flight hiatus!

Caillot is most likely eager to ensure that Reims stay in the top flight so as to avoid financial difficulties in the lower leagues again but is replacing a rookie with his assistant the right move? Only time will tell.

Philip Bargiel

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