While national knockout competitions have become uninspiring and meaningless for some clubs and fans, for others it means everything. League champions and current holders of the French cup PSG tonight faced third division side Les Herbiers in the final. The club from the Western region of La Vendée had written a bit of a fairy tale story by making it that far, with teams outside of Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 rarely making it to this Cup final. Despite the 2-0 loss on the evening, this should be used as an example for other French teams to aim high, not be defeatist when faced with such adversity and use encounters like this, as a way to learn and come out stronger. Here are ten anecdotes and facts you should know following the valiant heroes’ admirable display in the biggest match of their lives.
1 | Louis Bongongui, who already has six goals for his team in the competition, played in the same club as Kylian Mbappé. Both played at AS Bondy in the Northeastern Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis. The Herbiers man is six years older so they never shared the same dressing room, but pictures of the two together have been found!
2 | When speaking on RMC program “Team Duga” on April 19th, club captain Sebastien Flochon, one of Samuel Umtiti’s best friends, admitted he asked the Barcelona defender for advice on how to defend against French forward Kylian Mbappé. Les Herbiers’ midfielder has been friends with the former Lyon defender since they were five years old!
3 | PSG took up ad-space to congratulate Les Herbiers for making it to the final, and addressed a touching and encouraging message. “Today, it’s Les Herbiers’ turn to prove themselves as one of the best in the final. Regardless of the outcome, we are proud to face such an admirable team in the most meaningful competition of French football. Regardless of amateur or professional status, the honors or the match predictions, the only reality which matters is the one on the pitch. Eleven on eleven.”
4 | Les Herbiers’ cup run began in the round of five. Including the final, this accounts for seven rounds of cup matches with amateur and lower-ranked teams, but culminating in a match against French football’s current top-dog, who only began in the round of 32 When speaking to So Foot, Les Herbiers’ goalkeeper Matthieu Pichot stated the club’s objective was to make the round of 32! A lesson that you should never shoot too low.
5 | In that same So Foot interview, he also said that he listens to AS Roma’s anthem when warming up as part of his matchday ritual, a club and city he is quite fond of. Were Les Herbiers to have beaten PSG and Roma ended up in the Europa League, Pichot could potentially come up against the club of the Italian capital!
6 | While they dreamt of playing in Europe next season which they could have won if they had beaten PSG tonight, they still remain near the relegation zone in the French 3rd division.
7 | While Thomas Meunier suggested that he and his teammates watch the semi-final between Chambly and Les Herbiers, his teammates laughed and simply put on the Barca vs Celta Vigo match. Not necessarily surprising, and this is not to say that PSG didn’t prepare for their opponent. But it would’ve been bittersweet has PSG lost to a match to an opponent that they disregarded and scoffed at!
8 | Les Herbiers contacted a handball coach for advice! The Vendée club solicited Thierry Anti, coach of Nantes Handball Club, a champions league contender, for advice on defending in their 18, closing spaces. For the coach Stéphane Masala, this was a good lesson of humility to learn from anyone willing to provide help.
9 | Les Herbiers’ ex-coach, Fredere Reculeau, who was fired in January 2018, admitted that he would not watch his former team play against PSG. Instead, he would probably be at the cinema.
10 | Neymar’s monthly earnings equate to what one of Les Herbiers’ players would earn after 85 years…