It is close to nine months since the passing of Emiliano Sala, and his presence will always be felt at Nantes, with his grievance still very much in force at the club. On the pitch, however, it’s a different story, with the players providing something by way of optimism to the fans.
Considering the current status, online betting on Nantes to finish high in the league wouldn’t be a bad move at all. At the time of writing, they’re just two points behind Ligue 1 leaders PSG after winning six of their first nine games, and are proving to be a real force under Christian Gourcuff. The manager came to the club in their first season without Sala.
Sala’s move to Cardiff would have forced a restructure of the team, anyway. The Argentine forward was Nantes’ top scorer for three consecutive seasons and scored 13 in the season before he left and the tragedy that came afterwards.
Dispute over transfer fee
Nates are amid an off-the-pitch dispute with the Welsh club over the first instalment of Sala’s transfer fee.
Last month FIFA ruled that Cardiff must pay the fee, but Cardiff claimed they weren’t liable because Sala wasn’t technically their player.
This only delays closure for Nantes, but then this is where their on-field play is proving to be such a welcome escape.
The manager has improved the defence after switching to a 4-4-2 formation. In the first nine games in last season’s campaign, Nantes conceded 14 goals, racking up only nine points in the process.
Andrei Girotto and Nicolas Pallois have proved to be an impressive partnership in the centre of defence.
Alban Lafront is another success story in goal. Since his on-loan arrival from Florentina, the young keeper has been in outstanding form after conceding two goals against Strasbourg. He’s managed to keep three consecutive sheets since that outing.
At the other end of the pitch, the club has only managed to score nine goals, with all but one of their victories having been won by just 1-0. There have been 10 teams in the league to have scored more goals, but then only Reims and PSG have managed to concede fewer, at four each.
Gourcuff has a reputation as a shrewd manager in France, a reputation he has lived up to over his three stints at Lorient and two spells with Rennes.
While he has never won a Ligue 1 title, it could be argued that his biggest success came with his third stint with Nantes. He lifted the club out of Ligue 2 within three seasons, with some wonderful seasons, such as a seventh-place finish in 2019-10, with the aid of such players as Kevin Gameiro, Morgan Amalfitano, and Laurent Koscielny.
Gourcuff has achieved his early-season success on a tight budget. To fully rebuild a squad after bigger sides find their form, however, is something he will sooner or later be forced to deal with.
Nantes continues a unique mood that only time can heal, despite an uplifting start.