Last season saw the famous name of Stade de Reims secure a return to Ligue 1 for the first time in 33 years as they secured promotion from Ligue 2. Bastia and Troyes – who had also endured long spells away from France’s top division – joined them in booking their place in the top flight.
This year’s Ligue 2 campaign looks set to take a similar course with a number of teams who were once prominent forces in Ligue 1 hoping to seal a place among France’s footballing elite.
Indeed, the early season form suggests that a clutch of former Ligue 1 powerhouses, in this case Monaco, Nantes and RC Lens, appear to be in with a significant shout of playing top flight football next season.
Monaco’s promotion already seems academic, the men from the Cote d’Azur were relegated in 2011 – just seven years after the club had reached the Champions League Final under Didier Deschamps – but after a year in the doldrums of midtable in the second tier the principality club now seem destined for Ligue 1 as a takeover by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev has seen them recruit Italian Claudio Ranieri as Manager, and add a number of expensive new players to the squad.
The moves Monaco have made in the transfer market have certainly been impressive for a club in the second tier. Midfielders Jakob Poulsen and Delvin Ndinga joined from FC Midtjylland and Auxerre respectively while the club also lured 17-year-old Argentinian starlet Lucas Ocampos to the club from River Plate.
Ranieri’s side top the table after four games thanks largely to goals from Senegalese striker Ibrahima Toure and homegrown forward Valere Germain, who have netted six goals between them so far this campaign.
However, it is the prospects of Nantes and Lens which perhaps warrant more in-depth discussion, as while Monaco are many people’s favourites for promotion, the fortunes of these two famous French clubs are far less certain.
Lens suffered in the ignominy of relegation in the same year as Monaco – their indignation furthered by the fact that local rivals Lille won their first Ligue 1 title in 57 years in the same season – and like Monaco they made no impact in their first season back in the second tier, finishing a disappointing 12th in the table.
A string of summer departures have since followed, with Thorgan Hazard joining his older brother Eden Hazard at Chelsea, while promising defensive midfielder Geoffrey Kongdogbia chose to swap France for Spain and join Sevilla for a fee in the region of€3m.
Julien Toudic has also left the Stade Felix Bollaert, opting for a crack at Ligue 1 with Reims, but Manager Jean-Louis Garcia has recruited extensively, bringing in strikers Yoann Touzghar and Deme N’Diaye from Amiens and Arles-Avignon, whilst also adding midfielders Jerome Lemoigne and Pierrick Valdivia from Sedan.
The chances of Lens reaching the heights of 1998 – when they won Le Championnat and lost the Coupe de France Final to Paris Saint Germain – are slim, but they have made a decent start in their quest to return to Ligue 1 earning three draws and securing a 1-0 win over Le Havre to leave them lying 6th in the table.
Nantes, who regularly competed with Lens near the summit of Ligue 1 in the 1990s, have enjoyed an even better time in the early stages of the new campaign, winning two games and drawing two contests to leave them sitting third in the table as they look to return to Ligue 1 for the first time since 2009.
Manager Michel Der Zakarian has assembled a relatively young squad at the La Beaujoire-Louis, with 24-year-old Serbian striker Filip Djordjevic leading the way with two goals in his first four games. 19-year-old defensive midfielder Jordan Veretout and 21-year-old creative presence Adrien Trebel look to have already nailed down places in the first team squad, as does 23-year-old defensive utility man Papy Djilobodi.
The youth on show at Nantes is underpinned by a wealth of experience, the squad is captained by 27-year-old former Monaco left back Olivier Veigneau, while veteran wingers Yohann Eudeline and Fabrice Pancrate have also been brought in to boost the squad. In addition Der Zakarian managed to attract midfielder Lucas Deaux – fresh from helping Reims to promotion – to the club on a free transfer.
Monaco, Lens and Nantes have adopted different approaches as they all look to clinch a return to Ligue 1, but all have enjoyed positive starts to the season. The principality club have not traditionally attracted the same attendances as Nantes and Lens – who even in the second tier command attendances of at least 10,000 – but the return of the trio to the top flight would be widely welcomed by purists who see the 1990s as one of the best eras in the history of the French game.
The likes of Dijon, Auxerre and Caen will provide stiff competition but if the three teams can replicate their early form throughout the year, then by May they could well be celebrating a return to the elite.
Throughout the season Nicholas will be keeping a keen eye on Ligue 2 for FFW for more of his work make sure to follow him on twitter