One To Watch: Alidu Seidu – The Ghanaian came through the ranks with Clermont and has firmly established himself in the first team. At 23 years old, he already has six Ghana caps to his name, and he will be looking to push on this season. Much of the club’s success last season was built upon defensive solidity; Clermont certainly aren’t prolific goalscorers and scored the fewest amount of goals in Ligue 1’s top 10 last season. Seidu is a key pillar in the defence. He is an aggressive defender and often gets himself in the book a little too often. Tempering that eagerness to win the ball with an understanding of when to drop off will be a key element of his game upon which to improve.
At under 5″9, Seidu isn’t imposing in the air, and likely never will be, however, with the ball on the ground, he is a great interceptor and tackler. He is also a talented dribbler and is essential to ball progression, as modern centre-backs have to be. His skill set also allows him to play at right-back, and this may be where his future ultimately lies. Regardless, Clermont play to his strengths and playing on the right of the back three is currently where he looks strongest. It is in this position that he will be looking to impose himself this season and confirm his rise.
Signing To Watch: Bilal Boutobba – The former Marseille man has had a turbulent career, and is still just 24 years old. In 2014, he became the youngest player to represent Les Phocéens, however, Boutobba wouldn’t find a home for himself at this level. He barely featured at all during spells at Montpellier and then Sevilla and had to rebuild his career with Ligue 2 side Niort. With 11 goals and five assists last season, the former France youth product is now back on the right path and has joined Clermont on a free. Boutobba acknowledges that he had to mature to return to Ligue 1, which he believes he now has. “I have worked a lot and I deserve to be here, but I can still progress,” he said. As he nears his 25th birthday, Boutobba’s best years may still be ahead of him.
Squad Analysis: There aren’t any glaring holes in this side. There is depth in every position. Arguably there isn’t enough quality in the starting XI, but the same argument could have been made last season, and Clermont ultimately finished eighth. Last season’s defence hasn’t been picked apart yet, and retaining all of those elements will be fundamental in allowing Les Clermontois to reach their objectives. The midfield looks, on paper, functional if unspectacular, but the forward line may have to be strengthened. The club have taken chances on playmakers from the lower leagues, but a striker capable of scoring regularly would be a massive plus.
Strengths: Gastien and his backroom staff were Clermont’s greatest strength last season. This isn’t a side of elite individuals, but thanks to the work of the staff, they were consistently more than the sum of their parts throughout the campaign. The recruitment team also have their part to play. Mory Diaw’s move to Clermont last season was a masterstroke and the Senegalese goalkeeper became one of Ligue 1’s most reliable shot-stoppers. His form also earned him a first cap for the Senegalese national team. Neto Borges, who had failed to impose himself at Genk was also excellent and was included in Get French Football News’ team of the season. Along with Seidu, Clermont should once again have a solid defensive season.
Weaknesses: Where will the goals come from? Since Mohammed Bayo’s departure, Clermont have struggled to find a consistent source of goals, and it doesn’t look like being any different this season. No prolific forward has been brought in this summer. Grejohn Kyei led the line last season but netted just 10 goals. Is he capable of doing any better this season?
Verdict – Clermont Foot were Ligue 1’s form side in the final stages of last season. Pascal Gastien will now remain in the dugout at the Gabriel Montpied for the upcoming campaign, but can he replicate last season’s magic? Clermont finished the season with eight victories in their last ten games. OGC Nice, Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Lyonnais were at the receiving end of a shock during that run. However, it would be very naive to consider this side of replicating anything close to this level of form throughout the season. Teams around Clermont have strengthened well, notably Strasbourg and Reims, who will now be hoping to challenge the top half of the table. Lorient also look strong, whilst Nice, above whom Clermont miraculously finished last season, should once again challenge for the European places.
Gastien himself isn’t getting too carried away either. “Finishing eighth is a pleasure, but a club like ours must be aware that the first objective has to be safety,” said the French manager during pre-season. Gastien ensures that that statement doesn’t evidence a lack of ambition, but avoiding relegation is the principal preoccupation of many teams in the ventre mou. This is the reality. Clermont should have the means to achieve this objective. Many of Clermont’s victories were achieved by fine margins last season, and the club have enough to fall the right side of those margins again this season. Clermont shouldn’t be threatened by relegation, but challenging the top 10 may be a step too far in what could be Gastien’s last dance.