The Philippe Auclair Interview: Part III – The Future of Ligue 1

Philippe Auclair

In the third and final part of the interview, Philippe and Jeremy talk about Arsenal’s current contingent of Wenger, Koscielny, Giroud, Diaby and Sanogo, about the France Under-20s’ World Cup victory and les Bleus’ future prospects, and about his expectations for the coming Ligue 1 season.

JS: Wenger for PSG?

PA: I don’t believe in this PSG thing at all. I can’t see it happening with Arsene. If it happens, every ounce of respect that I have for Arsene would disappear and I think many people’s respect would disappear. It would be teaming up with the devil! After saying what he has said about Tapie? What he said about Abramovich? What he said about Sheikh Mansour and Manchester City? Can you imagine him going to FC Qatar? I can’t see it happening. It makes no sense! People say “yeah, but…” They don’t know Arsene. Arsene would never do such a thing. He will keep them on their toes. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s his last year at Arsenal, this year, the end of his contract. I wouldn’t be surprised at all. But that’s a different subject.

Staying with Arsenal, what are your views on Giroud and Koscielny?

Koscielny – I am relieved that he is staying [laughs]! Again – talk about underrated players! He is one of the best defenders in the Premier League. When people question his position… He was magnificent last year. He is the reason that Arsenal are in the Champions League. Without him, Tottenham would have done it. It’s amazing – people say “Tottenham is all Gareth Bale, if they didn’t have Gareth Bale they would never have done what they did”. OK, but if Arsenal hadn’t had Koscielny, where would they have been? How many points would they have made? I’d like to know! He was fantastic! There was loads of talk about Barcelona at one point. But apparently he’s staying.

And for Giroud – I’ve always been a great defender of the faith! Again, the amount of rubbish that is spouted. The game against Sunderland, he misses one chance. So what? Thierry missed 175,000 chances! I exaggerate – but he missed some that were far easier than that when he first arrived at Arsenal. And actually, even after the goal against Southampton [Henry’s first Arsenal goal], which was spectacular, he had a period of, I don’t know, half a dozen games, when he really wasn’t hot at all. And that is when people really questioned him. He’s had this one goal, OK, now he’s going to be like Dennis… And then he wasn’t so hot. And then he hit this streak of form and people thought actually this guy is special.

And Giroud – he came from Montpellier, from Ligue 1 – come on! And he still scores 20 goals in his first season for Arsenal! And in a team not playing to his strengths! And not exploiting him. And I keep saying to people – just watch, watch him, watch the runs! The number of times he makes a great run and he’s not given the ball – the others are too busy flicking the thing amongst the daisies, doing this little tippy-tappy which is so infuriating when it’s like that. And you’ve got Giroud busting a gut, doing one of his runs to the left side and everyone’s ignoring it! And the number of times he wins a header, and he’s struggling and fighting against a shithouse of a defender and he still wins the ball, but since there’s nobody within 20 yards, nobody is there for the second ball! And if he were in a system that was geared towards his strengths – with people that can cross a ball, for example, for a change!

There were moments when he seemed to be striking a good relationship with Walcott.

Absolutely. And I think Walcott is very much one who thrives on that – he did with van Persie. And I think with Giroud there was really something happening. And I think he had an excellent first season! And for the amount of money that he came for. It’s 12 [million pounds] including all the add-ons. I think some of the add-ons will have been activated by qualification for the Champions League. But since there was no trophy! [sniggers] I’m not sure that… And also referring to the number of caps that he gets for the French squad. And Blanc and Deschamps still prefer Benzema.

Not a Benzema fan here! What a talent. But how many minutes is it now, without scoring for France? Well over 1,000. I can’t remember the exact figure. It must be 1,200-1,300 now. Which makes no sense. And I really don’t get the idea that – especially Deschamps, who is somebody who is really intelligent, who is quite fluid, who is a very good coach, tactically very astute, but still he’s not trying to play Benzema as a 9 and a half! He’s not a number 9 – he’s never been a number 9!

He doesn’t want to go near the box.

No – he constantly wants to decrocher, as we say. Il decroche, il decroche, il decroche! That’s his game. So there is no fixed position – there is no point de fixation. And it’s really odd. I’m not sure that a Giroud-Benzema association would really work.

We’re in a weird state at the moment – we’re in between generations. The young ones seem to be all right.

What did you think of the Under 20 World Cup win?

We were fucking lucky! But we made the most of it, because everybody else was crap!

Most tournament wins involve a bit of luck.

Exactly. The Spaniards were lucky in the last Euro. Against the Italians they were bloody lucky.

And against Portugal, a penalty shoot-out.

Exactly. Which everyone seems to have forgotten, but there you go.

But we were lucky because the big guns all tumbled fairly quickly so we ended up playing teams which are not great, and scraping through really. But there are players there with great potential – more than potential. Thauvin is …pffff!

Although he also seems to have potential for being a bit difficult…

I like to think that he’s going to evolve into some kind of Eden Hazard, in terms of character. I know Eden and he can be a bit of a bugger, but he’s somebody who loves to play. He’s just wonderful, a proper street, wild, footballer. I love Eden.

Andrew, who runs the site, is a big Lille fan. So he won’t hear a word against Eden, but Thauvin is not his favourite player at the moment…

Well his head has been turned by Labrune. You know, come on! If he was so bloody good and they knew it, why did they loan him like that?

But then when he signed, he should have known that they might not qualify for Europe?

Yeah, OK. But he’s a real talent.

I’m excited about the possible back four – Corchia, Zouma, Varane, Digne…

Yeah, that’s pretty decent! Can you believe that Areola has been loaned to Lens?! He was extraordinary in that tournament, he was fantastic! I’m just amazed that he’s being sent on loan to the second division. I know he wants to stay in France, which is very good. But I’m amazed that another club hasn’t come in for him. He’s a number 1, he should be our bloody number 1! David de Gea was number 1 at the age of 17, for goodness sake! And I’m not saying he’s necessarily as good as David de Gea, but his potential is huge! Would you agree Player of the Tournament, perhaps?

I think so. He saved them in the final…

He played very well throughout the tournament.

For me, it’s him or Pogba.

Well Pogba is a monster, isn’t he!

I was a bit disappointed with Kondogbia, from what I’d heard about him.

I was not exactly disappointed by him. A slightly inflated reputation – he’s not the only one. For example Grenier, I’ve got my problems with. I’m not convinced. I’m thinking – who is going to be this year’s Corgnet? Who is going to be this year’s Martin? All these players that were supposed to become the greatest thing since Zizou. And they have one good season… But let’s wait. How many games did he [Grenier] play last season?

I don’t think he’s the finished article yet, but I think there’s lots of potential there.

This is why I think… 2014 we won’t be ready. Anyway, we might not be there! But in fact we might be just hitting it for 2016. Just. I think it’s coming a little early – they’ll still be 22, 23, those guys, 24 maximum. And the older chaps – well Hugo will be at the top, that’s fine. We’re still looking for a striker though.

I think that’s the main problem, even in the Under 20s, none of them are out-and-out strikers. There’s Sanogo…

Well Sanogo will get a triple fracture of the whatever – of the brain! Within 5 seconds of playing his first game for Arsenal.

But if he does stay fit, do you think that he can do much or is it a bit early?

Oh, he’s a talent. But come on, you’ve seen the injuries. You don’t come back from that properly. It’s a gamble. It’s the same as the way they gambled on Abou [Diaby]. Abou I can understand because if he was fit, that guy would be one of the world’s great footballers! I personally think that Smith of Sunderland [Dan Smith, who broke Diaby’s ankle] should be executed for what he did to Abou! I’m not sure Smith has ever played again. I hope he’s never played again! I was 3 yards away, I was on the front row. One of the most brutal things I’ve ever seen. Horrible!

Dan Smith, Martin Taylor and Ryan Shawcross [Taylor and Shawcross broke Eduardo’s and Ramsey’s legs, respectively] – the three murderers! Look at Martin Taylor – he’s never recovered from it. Which makes me think that guilt played a huge role in that.

I’m pretty sure it’s Dan Smith. We should ask [Jonathan] Wilson, he would know – “who is the Sunderland bastard who ruined the career of one of the most promising French footballers of his generation – or any generation?” Even last year, when he played two or three games on the trot, you said wow! He was superb! And so young, still!

But yeah, I think we’ll be a bit too tender for 2014. I still think 2016. The current generation, if you look at the guys there, there are quite a few players there who are very good but not quite good enough. At right back we have a problem right now. And when you think that Valbuena is the most consistently good French player at the moment, then you think we have a problem. He’s good, but he’s not that good. Matuidi will be a monster, he’s a monster already. Matuidi-Pogba! [sighs wistfully] Good luck guys!

There’s the kernel of a really good young team. And good guys as well – that’s what everybody will tell you – they’ve got a good attitude. And I think that the FFF has finally wised up to the idea that you’ve got to pick people with the right attitude. Blaise is a warrior, you can see he’s a warrior.

What’s happening with Sakho, by the way? He’s going isn’t he? He has to go. It’s going to be Thiago Silva and Marquinhos. You can’t buy a guy for 35 million euros to put him on the bench! No way!

What are your views on Ligue 1? I know that you’ve not always been the biggest fan.

No, I’m not the biggest fan and the problem is – I completely agree with the stance of my esteemed paper [France Football] – the stance was “Coaches – wake up!” That’s the main problem that I have, and that everybody has.

I was really disappointed by Bordeaux last year. I really thought that he [Francis Gillot] could do better with them than he did. They were so boring to watch. OK, it nearly worked out…

What about Marseille though?

Yes Marseille too. Even though – the Classico [a 2-2 draw with PSG] was one of the games of the season! That was fabulous. I thought “shit, they can play like that – do it every week!” But in this league it’s ‘no, don’t do it every week’. They were fantastic that night.

What about your thoughts on Monaco? You mentioned Qatar FC. Are they Russia FC? Is it a good thing for Ligue 1?

It’s insane isn’t it! It’s a terrible thing! Monaco is a terrible thing for Ligue 1. That’s my opinion. Everyone thinks it’s a fantastic thing for Ligue 1 in terms of numbers. When you see how little money there is in the game in France, there is no money. And suddenly everybody knows that they’re going to sell out when Monaco comes to town. That’s all there is to it, isn’t it! Otherwise the whole thing is – it’s not laughable, it’s scandalous really. I totally agree with Rousselot [AS Nancy chairman] that Monaco should be denied a place in Ligue 1, I totally agree with it. How the DNCG can possibly pass their accounts!

And you know about this whole idea of the “boutique club” [Rybolovlev’s plan to create a number of high cost, very high quality, luxury seats at the Stade Louis II]? How insane is this? What’s going to happen is that Rybolovlev himself is probably going to block-book his boutique executive seats, pass them onto his chums, and then pretend that they’ve bought them at 2,000 quid a ticket, and then the accounts are fine. What?! I mean how else can it work? Give me any reason why anybody would pay £2,000 to watch a football game! It’s shocking, really. But it’s going to bring people back, the idea of seeing all those big players.

Do you think that it could have a good knock-on effect on the rest of the Ligue?

God no. The only effect it can have is financial. People say exposure. That’s why it will be very interesting to see how it works at BT. It will be very interesting because they won’t have a PSG-OM or a Monaco-Nantes or whatever, which might be of interest to people, every week. They will have to do, I don’t know, well you can imagine – the matches from hell. They will have to do those as well. And how many people will tune in for that?

But will it become a good thing if PSG and Monaco start buying French?

Well Monaco has a little. Isimat-Mirin, Toulalan is coming back, Abidal as well. PSG – Digne. So perhaps. But it’s tiny amount of money compared to the rest. And with Toulalan it’s not French football that is benefitting. But it’s possible that some of the players who are based abroad can now come back to France. Maybe that’s a good thing.

But it’s all about the money. Because how is a club like Lorient going to benefit from the fact that they’re going to be thumped by Monaco and PSG? It’s really hard.

For me, Lorient are one of the teams who could benefit if they get a bit of TV exposure. They could become a cult club, they play nice football…

Yes – a hipster club! Yeah, Lorient is a great hipster’s club, definitely! And also they are a great punter’s club – because 3 goals plus, guaranteed – over 2.5! [Laughs] Which is a point I will make [on the BT preview show] because of course you have to have a guy from a gambling website, and I will make a point of talking about Lorient as being the safe bet. If they’re away they’ll probably ship about 5 [laughs].

I think many teams will struggle this year. The top 4, top 5, we can predict. We won’t be very far wrong. But who is going to go down? It could be 7 or 8.

That happened the year before last. The whole bottom half were in danger of relegation on the last day.

This time, Nantes? It’s going to be tough.

Guingamp without Imbula. Although I like Gourvennec and think they could stay up.

Yeah? Well, what about the team that is neither in Evian, Thonon or Gaillard? This joke has got to stop at some point, this is ridiculous!

I’ve predicted them to finish bottom. Especially if Khlifa goes. And Rabiu.

But last year they survived.

And got to the Cup final.

And actually weren’t ridiculous at all in the Cup final. I was really surprised by that. I thought “oh shit, it’s going to be dire”. But actually it was bloody good fun!

So what are your predictions?

I’m still going to go for Marseille finishing second. I really don’t think that Monaco can. It’s not even gelling. I think they’ll really struggle in places where we don’t expect them to struggle. It’s not chopping and changing – the team that got promoted doesn’t exist anymore, it’s a new team – a franchise has arrived, guys who have never played together before, a manager who is good but is not brilliant – I wouldn’t put him in the top tier.

I’m also wondering, what can Lyon do? I wish them well. What Aulas is doing is admirable in many ways.

I’m surprised it [the Gomis transfer] has taken so long because they [Lyon] really needed to get something in by the 30th June but they haven’t.

I’m surprised that they’re so obsessed with Gomis, but they’ve let Lopez stay.

Apparently he could be on his way out now. He earns too much money. The same with Yoann [Gourcuff], but…

I’ve still got faith in him!

Let’s hope so, let’s hope so! We’ve been waiting for a long time. He should have been… But then Deschamps has got to use him differently. It’s ridiculous. What’s the point of taking a player whom you know can’t play in that position, and playing him there? And then people say that he wasn’t very good. Well no! Put Bacary Sagna at centre forward and he won’t be very good, I’ll tell you that! Anyway, touch wood…

I’m really worried about Saint-Etienne. He [Aubameyang] is such a huge loss. What a fucking brilliant buy [by Dortmund]! Why wasn’t any English club prepared to bid? He’s gone for nothing! I’m absolutely amazed. I can imagine him playing at – I don’t know, Everton. Perhaps he wouldn’t be a starting centre forward at Chelsea, but any mid-table team, thank you very much! “You think Christian Benteke is good? Well wait until you’ve seen that guy!” 12 million euros? Something like that? It’s ridiculous!

I think that’s a general problem with Ligue 1 – the undervaluing of players.

Yes. Or not knowing what the value is. Because it’s difficult. They’re exposed to top-level opposition maybe 6, 7, 8 times a year. If you play against Evian Thonon-Gaillard it’s very difficult to gauge how good you are! [Laughs] But still! And he [Aubameyang] has not just done it for one season. It’s two seasons on the trot, he had a great CAN [the 2012 African Cup of Nations] as well, his goalscoring record for his country is phenomenal. So I’m really surprised. He’ll fit into Dortmund perfectly though. They’ve been so good. And Mkhitaryan as well – Jesus Christ! That’s a decent club!

 

And with that typically passionate exclamation, Philippe Auclair is off (as it happens, to write an article on Manchester City for France Football), but not before having given us two hours of his time, as well as the benefit of his passion for, and knowledge of, the beautiful game.

In order to appreciate Philippe’s writing as well as his fascinating opinions on the game, you can find his regular articles in France Football and in The Blizzard. And Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King and Thierry Henry: Lonely At The Top, both published by Pan Macmillan are available at the usual stockists.

 

7 comments

  • I feel that Philippe’s view of Ligue 1, like so many other English football fans who critique the French setup, is too idealistic. They proclaim that PSG and Monaco are detrimental to the league, when they’re only helping increase its market value. Of course its about the money, just like any football league! Smaller clubs will at least benefit from television rights deals, which have undoubtedly increased in worth over the past couple seasons. Of course, money-driven domination is not something everyone wants to see, but at the same time, PSG and Monaco have to bring in huge talent from abroad to draw attention to France. These teams now present young French players with viable, in-country, top-tier options, and drive up their price for foreign clubs. PSG’s academy is doing a fair job at fostering young talents, as illustrated by Adrien Rabiot, Alphonse Arreola, and Hervin Ongenda, so the club may not have to bring in as many foreigners in the future. Its easy to say how Monaco and PSG might be “killing football”, but it becomes increasingly annoying when such criticism comes from an English, and thus, EPL point of view. The EPL is, by far, the most cash-oriented football league in the world, and constantly, along with other top leagues, recruits great French youth players at bargain prices. So for once, when France has a couple wealthy clubs (not saying that they arrived at their wealth in the “correct” manner), please be more open-minded. Most of the managers and players who have been questioned about the impact of PSG and Monaco on the league have only had good things to say (though I would agree that Monaco’s tax-haven status does give them an unfair advantage). And on the question about whether people will watch a Monaco or PSG vs. Evian, the answer is: more than a year or two ago. And that’s all that matters.

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  • His opinion on Monaco was really pathetic. Go ahead and agree with the Nancy president of a small club with no money no one wants to watch.

  • alexandru mircea

    Fantastic interview. Excellent questions and interplay from the interviewer too. 😉

    Philippe is always on the half-empty side on French football, but in order to have the middle ground eventually you do need firm opinions on either side of the spectrum.

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