FEATURE | Conquering Canaries – Nantes’ record-breaking 1994/95 title triumph revisited

Nantes title triumph in the 1994-95 season was the first time since 1987-88 that a team other than Paris Saint-Germain or Marseille had won Division 1 (renamed Ligue 1 in 2002). It was a season without Marseille, who’d been demoted to Division 2, along with Valenciennes after being found guilty of match-fixing during the 1992-93 season. It was also the first time that three points were awarded for a win in French football.

Tale of the tape

The season marked a remarkable turnaround for Nantes. Just two years prior, they had been temporarily banished to Division 2 by the DNCG, French football’s financial regulator, before a swift reestablishment as FC Nantes Atlantique restored their place in Division 1. It was during this time that coach Jean-Claude Suaudeau reinstated jeu à la Nantaise, the ‘Nantes way’, a quick, attacking style of play underpinned by a development of academy players.

Working closely with youth coach Raynald Denoueix, Suaudeau brought through several exceptional talents who’d play a pivotal role in Nantes’ title triumph. Christian Karembeu, Reynald Pedros and Claude Makélélé provided athleticism and control in the midfield, while Japhet N’Doram, Patrice Loko and Nicolas Ouédec combined for 52 of Les Canaris 71 league goals. Nantes went on to record ten 3-0 wins during the campaign. The most significant of those came away to champions PSG, where a brace from N’Doram and a Loko strike delivered an emphatic statement of superiority.

The Parisians experienced a mixed season. They excelled in the cups, clinching a domestic cup double, and reaching the Champions League semi-final. However, the title defence proved a frustrating affair for Luis Fernandez’s star-studded squad. They lost nine times on the road, including 4-0 and 3-0 capitulations away to Rennes and Bordeaux.

Nantes’ closest challengers were Jean Tigana’s Lyon. They also relied on a coterie of academy talents, led by 21-year-old striker Florian Maurice, who netted 15 times in the league, and 24-year-old stopper Bruno N’Gotty. In the 3-1 home win over Cannes, seven academy players started for Les Gones. A key moment in their season came away to Metz, with Lyon leading 1-2 with thirty minutes to go. Heavy snow saw the contest scrapped after Metz officials claimed they did not have a snowblower to clear the pitch. It was later said that one was found hidden in Stade Saint-Symphorien. Lyon lost the rearranged fixture 2-1.

Caen and Sochaux were relegated, but 18th placed Saint-Étienne were given a reprieve when Marseille, champions of Division 2, were denied promotion.

Record breakers

It was Nantes’ seventh league title, their first since 1982-83. With only one loss all season, the club holds the record for the fewest losses in a French topflight season and the most consecutive matches unbeaten (32). It was equalled by PSG in the 2015-16 season.

How they stand today

Twelve of the 20 teams are playing in Ligue 1 today. Only PSG, Lyon and Rennes have played every season since in the topflight.

Auxerre, Bordeaux, Bastia and Caen are now in Ligue 2. Martigues and Sochaux compete in the third tier, and Cannes play in the fourth.

A glance at some of the season’s protagonists, at either end of the career spectrum

Just starting out

Thierry Henry

Aged 17, the 1998 World Cup winner made his professional debut with Monaco at the beginning of the season. Two years later he helped Monaco win their sixth title, providing the springboard for an illustrious career.

Jacques Santini

After finishing bottom with Sochaux, Santini became Lyon’s Technical Director, and then manager in 2000. After winning the French League Cup in 2001 and the league in 2002, he replaced Roger Lemerre as France manager.

Ludovic Giuly

The “Magic Elf” made his professional debut with Lyon midway through the season. He’d go on to play for Monaco, Barcelona, Roma, PSG, and Lorient, winning the Champions League with Barcelona in 2006.

Fading away

Ricardo Gomes

The Brazilian centre-back left for Benfica in the summer with compatriot Valdo, both of whom had arrived from Lisbon in 1991. In his second spell in Portugal, he won the Portuguese Cup, before retiring at the end of the season aged 31.

Claude Puel

It was the 33-year-old’s penultimate season before retirement. A one-club man, the tough-tackling midfielder played just under 600 times for Monaco, winning the league twice.

Manuel Amoros

Capped 82 times by France and a veteran of two European Championships and two World Cups, the right-back completed his final season with Lyon. He returned to Marseille for one last campaign before bringing his career to an end.

GFFN | John Porter

 

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