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Opinion | Sacking your manager works… Sometimes

PSG won the league in record time and could well become the first Ligue 1 side to achieve 90 points in history. They have already achieved last season’s points tally (83) by winning at Guingamp the previous Saturday. However, Champions’ League heartbreak at the quarter-final stage brings Laurent Blanc’s stay at the club in doubt.

PSG should take a look at their domestic league first and foremost before mimicking other European giants who chop and change their managers once CL results don’t go their way. Ligue 1 is PSG’s bread and butter after all; it is the foundation of any remotely successful season.

The other Ligue 1 European spots are up for grabs as Monaco are finally letting in goals while Lyon are enjoying their football for the first time of the season. Other sides like Lille and Rennes are also scoring goals for fun.

What do the latter 3 sides have in common? They have all sacked a manager this season and in each case, the decision to do so appears to have been an inspired one.
Lyon started the season with promise and ambition. They were able to threaten PSG for most of last season, kept all their star players (Fékir, Lacazette) and their recruits were rather well received (it didn’t last).

However, Fournier’s record at Lyon has been blighted by an overall poor set of results in the first half of the 2015/16 campaign. Lyon finished bottom of their Champions’ League group and ended the first half of the Ligue 1 season with 26 points (39 in 2014/15) in a less than impressive 9th position.

This column doubted that replacing Fournier with his assistant would do much good to the club but the results are showing that it has. Under the inexperienced Bruno Genesio (he managed Besançon in 2005/06, that’s about it), Lyon have achieved more points in 14 games than in the whole first half of the season.

The lack of wins at rivals Saint-Etienne and Marseille early on were down to spectacular performances by the clubs’ two goalkeepers (Stéphane Ruffier and Steve Mandanda) as Lyon were the better side in both games. The wins were flying in in February (4 in 5 games) including defeating PSG.

Lyon now have their 2nd spot back (a place they really should be seen in on most weekends given the squad’s quality) which they left on November 27th and if they keep it, you could say that Genesio has steadied a fast sinking ship.

You could argue of course that Genesio did not have to dip his toes in the transfer market or did not have to deal with a European competition whilst trying to save a league campaign. Time will tell if he has broad enough shoulders to do cope with that next season.

We move on to Rennes for our next case in point. After a rather ordinary 9th place finish in 2014/15, Rennes were expected to scrum for the European places this term. Things started quite well: Rennes won 4 of their opening 5 games but could then only muster a solitary win in the following 13 matches (a period that goes occurs from between late August to mid-December).

Rennes coach Philippe Montanier was at the time under pressure not only for a poor league form but also because of defeats that were hard to swallow for the fans in the domestic cups. When Rennes lost to Toulouse in the Coupe de la Ligue last December, you could hear a couple of “Montanier, demission!” (Montanier, resign!) chants in the stands.

The axe fell when Rennes lost to Bourg-Péronnas (newly promoted to Ligue 2 this season) on January 20th. Rennes were 5th at the time, not a shameful position for a club their size but the performances were simply not there.

Enter Rolland Courbis. A highly experienced manager who was brought in initially under the guise of a mere advisor to Rennes chairman René Ruello. He replaced Montanier weeks later and is currently overseeing Rennes’ best form of the season.

Montanier was admittedly unlucky as the club’s most talented playmaker, Paul-Georges Ntep, was injured most of the time during the first half of the season (5 starts and 2 sub appearances).

Courbis has also benefitted from the emergence of Ousmane Dembélé, the 7th top-scorer of the league. The rest of the squad have also picked up the pace, with Rennes firmly in contention for a Europa League place for next season.

Our 3rd and final case study is Lille. The Northerners suffered a tedious season last term under René Girard and the board already thought that the squad needed a change last summer. Hervé Renard – better known for his African Cup of Nations exploits with Zambia and the Ivory Coast than his domestic achievements with Sochaux – was appointed and he bought in a host of promising players who plied their trade in Ligue 2 (Amadou, Guirassy and more).

The results didn’t follow with just one win from their opening 8 league games. Renard did not survive this horrid spell and he was sacked on November 11th 2015, as Lille were staring relegation in the face.

In came Frédéric Antonetti. Boufal was suddenly playing better, Eder came in from Swansea while Amalfitano came out of strange period of unemployment and the attacking unit began to gel. After an initial honeymoon period, Lille were generally playing with much more urgency and moreover enthusiasm. They have won 6 on the bounce and are now 6th, having been 18th in early December.

Obviously, French managers in the French game tend not to receive such lucrative contracts when compared to other high-profile leagues which makes them easier to sack. However, the axe (when it comes) is usually taken after careful consideration and moreover with another guy lined up to take the job. The examples shown above depict a market where chairmen are not afraid to give rookies experience (Genesio) but also rely on guys with proven track records with their own philosophy (Courbis and Antonetti).

Blanc is a manager who is perfectly happy to keep winning the league and cups season after season and try his best in the Champions’ League; no other club offers that kind of package in Europe today.

Does any other manager have that kind of patience? And is there anyone who has proven that they can stay at the same spot for a minimum of 5 years without showing signs of complacency and falling out with their players? Most of Europe’s elite clubs are struggling to find a long-term solution to the manager role. PSG could join them if they sack Blanc.

Philip Bargiel

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