‘Not a pyramid scheme’ – Marc Keller defends Strasbourg owners from accusations of lost identity, youth focus, and prioritising Chelsea

Marc Keller’s time as president of RC Strasbourg Alsace saw him take control of the club in 2012 guiding them out of the fourth division and back into the top flight. In the 2018-19 season, this saw the club win their fourth Coupe de la Ligue, and in the 2021-22 season, a sixth-place finish. 

Last season was a turning point in more ways than one for Strasbourg as the side that had finished only three points away from a European position was now mired in a battle at the bottom of the table. This was enough to convince Keller that the club had reached its competitive ceiling and without outside financial investment the club would be in trouble. 

In stepped, the BlueCo consortium who only a year prior had bought Chelsea FC. Keller would have the investment, but it came at a price. A revamped strategy focusing entirely on youth players and a lingering tension with supporters wary that they might be at the foot of a multi-club model built principally to serve the team in London. 

An end of a cycle for Strasbourg

It’s a decision that Keller still defends as he spoke to L’Équipe, “The arrival of BlueCo was essential to allow Le Racing to be more competitive in the coming years.” As the president further explains, “We still have two and a half years work [on Stade de la Meinau]… it’s better to be well-supported, and we are. We’ll lose ticketing revenue next year and put around twenty million euros back into the stadium.” 

Keller also hit back at the idea that Strasbourg are being prescribed a project that they can neither control nor influence, “We say that it is the BlueCo project but in reality, it is the project that we already had at the club. We wanted to take a step forward and this project is boosted by BlueCo. If I stayed, it’s because I believe in it.

Still, the summer was a dramatic period, where 53 million euros was spent on four players all aged twenty, while transfer targets such as Davinson Sánchez (27) and Kenyan Joseph Okumu (26) were all refused. 

Again Keller rejects that youth has been prioritised over all else, “We had reached the end of a cycle… we had in mind that we needed to get younger. We are told that we only play young players but we considered that we had ten experienced players out of twenty to twenty-two. We must not caricature the strategy we have put in place

Keller continues, “We had a team with an average age of 28 and we wanted to go down to 23-24… We were able to secure young talent courted with the resources provided by BlueCo. Players with potential are BlueCo’s policy, but it’s also ours.” 

‘Chelsea is a ‘brother’ club, not above us, but next to us’

A report had come out following the winter transfer window that had seen various potential targets rejected allegedly by Behdad Eghbali, one of the major shareholders in BlueCo, in favour of more game time for Chelsea loanee Ângelo Gabriel (19). 

A decision that has backfired after the left winger picked up an injury, and seemed to confirm the mistrust that sections of the supporters have with their new ownership.  Keller again rejected this concept, “No [Eghbali doesn’t run the club]… I speak with several people from BlueCo, including Eghbali who I speak to regularly on the phone.” 

Keller continued by trying to assure the club’s fanbase, “Change is scary and it’s a big change… [but] we are not in a pyramid scheme, Chelsea is a ‘brother’ club, not above us, but next to us.

There’s been a fear that the club has in the process of being bought lost some of its unique identity as the only major representative of the Alsace region, a culturally specific part of France. “Racing remains Racing… We want to take advantage of [BlueCo’s] help to go higher. Support will come again with time and victory. The public are solely starting to identify with the players.” 

‘We took advantage of the relationship with Chelsea’ 

Again Keller wanted to use this interview to push back on what he believes to be an unfair narrative that January was a worrying time for the club where they depleted their resources, as not only did they not recruit heavily but they allowed for important figures like Matz Sels (32) to leave. “He shouldn’t have left. The phone call came the evening before… Matz decided to leave and the staff believed in Alaa Bellaarouch (22).” 

As for the arrivals, we wanted to recruit a left-back and a left-winger,” He explains, “That couldn’t be done and we said to ourselves that we shouldn’t recruit for the sake of recruiting. Habib Diarra (20) could play on the left and, in this case, we needed an additional versatile midfielder [to replace him]. We took advantage of the relationship with Chelsea to bring in Andrey Santos.” 

What comes next for Strasbourg is unclear, the results have been patchy as a young and thin squad faces the wear and tear of a long season. Whether the club will persist with a youth-focused strategy for the summer window will likely have already been decided, but Keller was giving no hints. “We are thinking about what comes next but now is not the time to talk about it. We will take stock at the end of the season. Like every year, we will try to find solutions.

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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