Feature | A rich heritage but a turbulent recent history: a guide to Racing Club de Strasbourg

After months of negotiations, Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace (RSCA) have new owners in the shape of BlueCo, the proprietors of Chelsea Football Club.

The American consortium has, as announced by Les Alsaciens president Marc Keller, taken over the entirety of the club. Keller will remain in his position despite the change in ownership. The French side have therefore become the first club in a newly formed multi-club project, led by Christopher Vivell, who previously occupied a similar position with the Red Bull Group.

Through their €75m investment in Strasbourg, Chelsea owner Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital have taken their first step towards building their multi-club system, following reported attempts to negotiate with Bordeaux in France, but also clubs Portugal and Belgium. As a new chapter begins in Strasbourg, Get French Football News looks back through the history of the illustrious Alsace club. 

Strasbourg is located in the Alsace-Lorraine region, an area in the Northeast of France which has been particularly affected by World Wars. The territory has often been contested with Germany, particularly due to their natural resources in potash. Today, the region and the city of Strasbourg have a strong German influence, as well as a European one, with the European Parliament based within the city.

This German influence can be felt in the origin of the club, with its original name back in 1906 being “FC Neudorf”, named after a neighbourhood in the city. Its first games were even played with the German federation, before becoming Racing Club de Strasbourg in 1919, when they joined the French federation.

The club obtained professional status in 1933 and became one of the best French clubs at the time, eventually winning the national cup in 1951 after losing two finals. The 1960s brought continental competitions to Strasbourg, in which they eliminated AC Milan and Barcelona notably. From a trophy side, the cabinet is small but not insignificant, with two more Coupe de France titles coming in 1966 and 2001, as well as their first, and to date only, league title in 1979. Add to that three league cups, including the most recent in 2019.

Unfortunately, the club has also had difficult years. We spoke to two supporters, Thomas Berenguer and Arnaud, who explained the difficulties encountered by Strasbourg at the turn of the century.

With the arrival of American investors, many supporters will be making strong links with the latest American investors that were present at the club, in the shape of International Management Group (IMG). Mark McCormack was the leader of this investment. Back in 1997, the municipality of Strasbourg gave away their shares of the club (49%) to these American investors, with former tennis player Patrick Proisy becoming the new president at the time.  

The first season was a success, with the club having a great adventure in the UEFA Cup, notably beating Liverpool 3-0 that season. They even beat Ronaldo’s Inter Milan in the Round of 16 first leg, before crashing out in the return leg in Italy. Things started getting worst at the turn of the century, by which point two poor seasons eventually led to relegation in 2001, even with the victory in the Coupe de France the same season. At that point, relations between the ownership and the supporters deteriorated and has left a sour taste ever since in the supporters’ minds. Even with a promotion back to Division 1 the following season, the relationship was too complicated and IMG sold the club to local investors. Given the American connection, scepticism towards Boehly and Clearlake, therefore, perpetuates from those difficult years, even two decades later.

The following years saw many top-quality players come through the ranks of the club, with the likes of Mamadou Niang, Mickaël Pagis and Kevin Gameiro playing for the club, the latter coming through the academy at Strasbourg. However, after Niang’s departure in 2005, the club once again experienced a season of mixed emotions. Despite an impressive UEFA Cup run, Strasbourg were once again relegated –  a recurring theme throughout the recent history of the club.

The story, unfortunately, gets worse before it gets better. After another yo-yo between first and second divisions, instability off the field brought the club down to the third division at the end of the 2010 season. A year later, the club is demoted for financial reasons to the fourth division, therefore losing its professional status, before getting a judicial settlement and being liquidated and sent back to the fifth division in the same summer of 2011.

There starts the great adventure. Ex-player Keller invests in the club, helped by the region of Alsace, in order to bring the club back to its past glory. While it may not be the biggest club in France in terms of trophies, the local support did not whither with the relegations and an incredible atmosphere remained at every matchday.

Five years after getting demoted to the fifth division, the club were back in Ligue 2, regaining its professional status and leaving the club hopeful for better days. That season, the club announced an objective to retain their Ligue 2 status but ended up winning the league and returning, after a lengthy hiatus, to Ligue 1, with back-to-back promotions helping them back to the promised land.

Since then, the club has, by and large, maintained a midtable status in Ligue 1, despite some occasional close scares with relegation. They regularly causes problems to the top sides, particularly at home at La Meinau. The recent highlight came in the spring of 2019, when Strasbourg lifted the Coupe de la Ligue, beating Guingamp in the final. They qualified for the preliminary rounds of the Europa League, before eventually losing to Eintracht Frankfurt in the final playoff.

This season was particularly difficult, with the club flirting with relegation until the end of the campaign in a season that saw four clubs go down. However, the family spirit and the great support, added to amazing performances from Habib Diallo (scorer of 20 goals this year), helped them secure Ligue 1 survival.

Strasbourg also shares connections to British football. Ex-Chelsea midfielder Franck Leboeuf also played for Strasbourg, as did Arsene Wenger, who was a player when the Alsatian club won the league in 1979.

What the future holds for the club, nobody knows. Of course, the example of the City Group and their ownership of ESTAC Troyes has been, thus far, a failure, with the latter getting relegated to Ligue 2 this year. BlueCo’s interpretation of a multi-club model, for now, remains a mystery. Will Chelsea players such as David Datro Fofana be sent to Strasbourg?   

L’Équipe’s latest report suggests that player exchanges aren’t currently a priority in the novel project, but there will be a desire for all involved to progress this historic, local bastion with a rich history, riddled with setbacks. Boehly and co. will be looking to foster development rather than cause further issues. 

GFFN | Tom Abadie

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