AS Nancy-Lorraine had to wait until the 3rd of July for their place in Ligue 2 to be assured. After a season fraught with turmoil on the pitch, it was ultimately off-pitch issues that looked set to derail the club’s great escape.
On the 12th of June, it was announced that the club had failed to meet the standards set by French football financial watchdog, the DNCG; the organisation had deemed them unable to provide certain guarantees on revenue and management of their payroll. As a result, they were to be relegated to the third tier for the first time since turning professional in 1967, just weeks after escaping what seemed certain relegation.
Following an appeal, and a period of uncertainty, they were saved by a man who had seemingly given all he could: former president and club icon Jacques Rousselot. The majority shareholder’s generosity provided a positive end to what was a truly tumultuous season.
Rousselot had stepped down from his role as president in October. After a successful 25-year spell in charge of the club, culminating in an extended period in the top flight, and a Coupe de la Ligue win in 2006, things had started to stagnate. The club were relegated after one season back in Ligue 1 in 2016-17, and survived by the skin of their teeth on their return to Ligue 2, a season in which emblematic coach Pablo Correa was sacked, one of four managers to take charge of the team that year.
Rousselot had decided to cede his place to friend Jean-Michel Roussier, president of Marseille from 1995-99, in an attempt to revitalise the club, as well as concentrate on securing new investors. Roussier had his work cut out for him, as inadequate summer recruitment and poor management were taking their toll; the football was dire, and the team had started the season with seven straight defeats without scoring. Promising signings disappointed, with Pape Sané firing blanks, and Danilson da Cruz struggling with injury and inconsistency.
After twelve games yielding a meagre five points, it was time for change. Didier Tholot, who kept the side up right at the death the season before, was ousted. In came the experienced Alain Perrin.
Perrin, an ex-player and manager of the reserve side, had been brought in by Roussier as an advisor, and had himself indicated that he would not be returning to coaching (his last position had been with China in 2016, and last job in France was a disappointing spell at Saint-Etienne). Nevertheless, after several weeks looming in the shadows, he was appointed interim head coach.
Wins over relegation rivals Red Star, as well as Orléans, helped the club finish the first half of the season strongly. Perrin completely sidelined several senior players (Sané, N’Guessan, Clément and da Cruz) in favour of untested academy products (such as striker Vinni Triboulet). This however proved to be a false start, and the coach was unable to settle on a set XI and appropriate system.
When all seemed lost, what undoubtedly saved the club was a strong January transfer window. Key acquisitions included the experienced Abdelhamid El Kaoutari, brought in to partner Ernest Seka in central defence, as well as Lorient wantaway Sylvain Marveaux and Nantes forward Santy Ngom, to add firepower.
Most significantly, Vagner Dias was signed on loan from Saint-Etienne, whose creative spark and eight-goal haul were instrumental in the run that followed; Nancy went on to win eight of their last 14 matches. Perrin’s side became tactically versatile and highly effective, playing a direct 4-4-2, with Vagner partnering Ngom up front, and often switching to a back three.
After being written off at numerous points throughout the campaign, and rooted to the bottom of the table until mid February, Nancy were dynamic and decisive, and secured their survival in the sweetest of ways; a 1-0 derby win over rivals and champions Metz. The club had accomplished what many had deemed impossible, and done so with a game to spare.
With a dramatic season drawing to a close, few expected the club’s fate to hang in the balance again. Nevertheless, the arrival of new coach Jean-Louis Garcia was followed swiftly by the DNCG ruling: the club would be relegated unless they could provide the necessary financial reassurances. In stepped Rousselot.
The former president, despite taking a step back from the club, is said to have paid the reported €7m, per MaLigue2, out of his own pocket. Current president Roussier has said to L’Est Republicain that “we owe [Rousselot] a lot,” while also insisting that the club will take “radical measures” to ensure financial stability going forward. The club have already received a reported €1m for Abou Ba from Nantes, and further player sales are expected.
The club have survived, and begin the upcoming campaign in a healthier position than the previous summer. Though payroll and budget restrictions have been imposed, the recruitment has been positive so far, and they appear to have made a sensible managerial appointment in Garcia, who most recently won promotion with Troyes. Rousselot, meanwhile, has single-handedly rescued the club, and cemented his legacy.