Ligue 1 Review | Strasbourg out of the woods in first season under BlueCo ownership

Cautious optimism was the feeling that surrounded Patrick Viera and his management staff after RC Strasbourg Alsace’s victory over Stade de Reims on the weekend. “I’m not saying to myself that it means we’re staying up,” Vieira cooled after he watched Ligue 1’s second-youngest side come from behind to win 3-1 in front of a jubilant Stade de la Meinau. 

While the former World Cup winner would prefer to wait for safety to become a mathematical certainty before celebrating a job well done, the fans began the party early on Saturday afternoon as relegation became a distant threat with ten points separating them and third-bottom FC Lorient with only five games of the season remaining. 

Performances on the pitch have shown the promise of a team that over the summer became committed to a new direction that has pushed youth to the front and centre of their club operations. There have of course been tough moments with a young side that has occasionally strayed into inconsistency and the status of the owners remains an existential subject in the East of France, but there have also been encouraging signs that have underscored that these could be exciting times for Strasbourg. 

Strasbourg’s BlueCo experience

When BlueCo bought Strasbourg last June there were immediate concerns over the future of the club from the team’s support. This was a proud side with a deep history and a unique connection to an area of France that has little other representation in sport, and to the horror of its supporters, it was about to become the junior partner to Chelsea in a multi-club model that it would have no say in. 

These concerns have flared up consistently throughout the season as the fans attempt to come to terms with and understand a new reality that places the needs of those north of the English Channel over their own. This particularly came to a head during the winter transfer window when BlueCo shareholder Behdad Eghbali vetoed the club’s attempts to sign a left-winger in case it disrupted the development of Chelsea loanee Ângelo Gabriel. 

The left-winger at the time was having a bright season under Vieira. Still, the club felt that they were overly reliant on a 19-year-old who would never fully belong to them, and would as the season wore on, need rest and recuperation. They wanted to purchase some competition to protect themselves and the young star. However, this stood completely against why BlueCo had bought Strasbourg to begin with, they wanted Gabriel to have maximum experience on the pitch, and if he was the only left-winger at the club, so much the better. 

The whole point for why BlueCo bought into the multi-club model was that there would be no competition for the development of their young stars, if they went on loan to Strasbourg, they would be played without question or challenge. The result of this policy was that Gabriel was overstretched and his development was fundamentally harmed when he picked up a season-ending injury during training, something that likely could have been avoided if the club had not been overly reliant on one young player. 

The foundations for something new? 

The flipside of the BlueCo experience for Strasbourg has been the ability to keep hold of their young stars like Habib Diarra. The versatile midfielder has become a cornerstone for Vieira’s side and represents one of only two players in the squad who have progressed through the academy system into the first team. However, if not for the new ownership putting their foot down, he likely would have been sold during the summer. 

BlueCo blocked a €25 million deal for the midfielder to leave Strasbourg and join one of either RC Lens or Wolverhampton Wanderers, in what would have been a record fee for the club, and a costly mistake. The midfielder has become a figurehead for the new era, a 20-year-old who has shown his ability to lead both on and off the pitch, with Diarra even being involved in the club’s efforts to soothe its tense relations with the ultra groups. 

In a time when the fans have complained about the actions of the new owners and have increasingly pointed out an alienated relationship with the squad, the face of an academy prospect within the first team has the potential to forge a new connection with a new era for the team. His injury on Saturday was met with immediate concern from a fan base who had grown familiar with his consistency this season, and it was an anxiety that could have only been washed away by the eventual result. 

The Strasbourg fans will never fully trust BlueCo when the ownership cannot prove that it has their interests fully at heart, but games like Saturday and players like Diarra show that there is a foundation for growth. At the very least, the weekend saw Le Racing on the path out of the woods, an outcome to a season that was not always assured in a campaign marked by dramatic change. 

This week’s Ligue 1 subplots
  • A collective suicide” is how Will Still described Reims’ reaction to Strasbourg. The Champagne club are on the cusp of a European place but collapses like this can only make the task harder for a team desperate to take advantage of their young manager before a suspected summer departure. Read Reim’s post-match reaction HERE

  • Rayan Cherki led the celebrations as Olympique Lyonnais stung Stade Brestois with a 4-3 comeback. The club from the lows of the relegation places find themselves in contention for European qualification, but is it a miracle or an indictment? Find your answers HERE.

  • The walls are closing in on bottom-placed Clermont Foot as they look destined for the drop. A draw against fellow strugglers Montpellier saw the team drop points from winning positions for the second week running, and as the game finished their players were locked in heated exchanges with the support. See the full story HERE

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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