The amazing rise of Gazelec Ajaccio
The past few seasons have seen Corsican sides enjoy relative success, with the island’s two biggest teams now competing in the top flight.
Indeed for AC Ajaccio and Bastia these have been enjoyable times. AC look to have finally managed to establish themselves as a Ligue 1 side, while Bastia returned to the division for the first time in seven years last season, securing promotion from Ligue 2 after a superb campaign.
However, one story that may have gone unnoticed by many is that of the island’s third team, Gazelec Ajaccio, who are now attempting to cement their Ligue 2 status after winning promotion from the Championnat National last term.
GFCO are not expected to pull up any trees in the second tier, but if Le Gaz are able to retain their Ligue 2 status this season, then it would mark another memorable moment for a club that just two seasons ago was playing in the fourth level of French football.
It certainly has been a whirlwind few years for the Corsican minnows, and their rapid rise can be attributed to the arrival of Manager Dominique Veilex, who took over the side in 2010 after the club had missed out on promotion from the CFA by two points.
Where his predecessor Patrick Leonetti had failed, Veilex succeeded, as Le Gaz stormed to the CFA Group C title, earning 102 points as they edged nearest challengers Martigues by four points.
Gazelec’s promotion to the National owed much to the form of midfielder Quentin Boesso and striker Mickael Colleredo, who netted 19 goals between them as they helped propel GFCO to the third tier. Defender Louis Poggi was also a surprise contributor, the 28-year-old scoring seven times as Veilex’s men developed a habit of finding goals from all areas of the pitch.
However, if that campaign had been a success, then last season will surely go down as one of the best in GFCO’s history as Veilex guided them to new heights in both league and cup competition.
Le Gaz appeared to be in for a difficult season in the Championnat National, as they won only two of their first 10 games, however Veilex’s side soon turned their fortunes around, and a run of eight wins from the next nine put them back on track ahead of the winter break.
Inspiration for a prospective promotion push came in the form of the Coupe de France, as the Islanders first overcame then Ligue 2 side Troyes 1-0, before stunning Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse to knock them out of the competition by the same score line.
Colleredo netted the winner in each of those games, and it was he, along with strike partner Nicolas Verdier – a free signing from Arles-Avignon – who led GFCO to a run of just one defeat in nine games, a streak that would put them in prime position to seal promotion.
That impressive sequence of results included a 2-0 win over CFA side Drancy in the last 16 of the Coupe de France, a victory that set-up a mouth-watering clash with Montpellier.
The cup-tie proved to be the first major success of an astounding season, as the minnows stunned the Ligue 1 champions-elect to earn a 1-0 victory thanks to a goal from defender Yohan Bocognano in a game played at the home of city neighbours AC Ajaccio.
Lyon quickly dispensed with the Corsicans in the semi-final, but the dye for a memorable term had been set, and Veilex’s side soon sealed promotion with a 1-0 win over Paris FC, Verdier netting the winner with his 14th goal of the season as he finished top scorer, closely followed by Colleredo who notched 11 in another superb season.
Boesso also enjoyed another strong campaign, scoring eight goals, but with promotion to the second-tier came the switch to professionalism, and hence a number of players, including the 26-year-old midfielder, were sacrificed as a number of signings joined as the club embarked on the next chapter of an unprecedented era in their history.
The former Nimes and Le Havre man was not the biggest casualty of the club’s success however, as Veilex was replaced by Jean-Michel Cavalli, who took over for his fourth spell in charge of GFCO in early August.
Cavalli was just one of a plethora of new recruits, and the club has done well to bring in the right blend of experience and youth: Loick Landre signed up from PSG to help bolster the defence; winger Evan Chevalier moved from Bordeaux, and striker Idris Saadi joined from Saint-Etienne to add more firepower to an already prolific attack.
The capture of Saadi has proved to be an inspired one – the 20-year-old has netted four goals in his last four games as Le Gaz have recovered from a poor start, overcoming Nimes and Nantes and earning a 2-2 draw with 2nd placed Monaco to pull themselves away from the relegation zone.
GFCO face a stiff challenge to try to secure survival, however the early signs have certainly been promising and if Saadi and co can continue then they may be able to maintain their impressive early form. Veilex will be fondly remembered after securing his place as one of the club’s best ever managers, however if Cavalli can ensure Le Gaz’s status as a second-tier club, then it will undoubtedly go down as the greatest achievement in their long history.