RC Strasbourg: On the Road Back to the Big Time
After six years in the relative wilderness, French football has welcomed one of its biggest names back to the professional fold. Last Friday, thanks to a 0-0 draw away at ASM Belfort, Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace secured the Championnat National title and with it a return to Ligue 2.
It has been a long and winding road back to France’s second tier, with two seasons spent outside the top three divisions and four in the semi-professional third level as a result of near liquidation back in 2011.
However, le Racing are finally on their way back to the big time from the brink of non-existence and the men from Bas-Rhin can now target a return to Ligue 1 for the first time since the 2007-08 campaign.
It was not pretty but Strasbourg dragged themselves over the line this term and avoided a repeat of last season’s heartache when they were denied promotion in the final match. Jacky Dugueperoux’s men were seconds away from confirming their promotion at home to SC Amiens in front of a bouncing Stade de la Meinau just a few weeks ago but contrived to lose 1-0, delaying the supporters’ celebrations.
The defeat, a first at home in an impressive run of 26 matches across all competitions, only served to heighten their fans’ frustration. The Alsatians travelled in their droves to nearby Belfort last Friday in the hope of finally seeing a return to Ligue 2 and professional status at the Stade Roger-Serzian.
They were not disappointed. The explosion of joy from the near 3,000 travelling contingent was quite the spectacle and a full-blown pitch invasion followed the final whistle and news of the National title thanks to US Orléans’ and Amiens’ draws.
The following day, thousands of supporters gathered at Place Broglie in Strasbourg to celebrate promotion, the title and the return to professional status with the players and coach Dugueperoux.
The 68-year-old is a legendary figure for le Racing and it is fitting that it is he who has led this fallen giant back to the light. Dugueperoux played for the club between 1973-79, captaining them to their one and only Ligue 1 title in his final season at the Stade de la Meinau.
As coach, the man from Saint-Malo won three major domestic trophies (two Coupe de la Ligue and one Coupe de France) to further enhance his legend at the club. After an emotional two-year spell this time, Dugueperoux has kept true to his word and will lead the team no further, now that he has restored its professional status.
The two-time Ligue 2 champions have moved quickly to secure his successor and after former Olympique Lyonnais and Aston Villa coach (and Strasbourg player) Remi Garde was linked with the role, former Gazelec Ajaccio boss, Thierry Laurey, was confirmed as their new boss.
On top of their one Ligue 1, two Ligue 2, three Coupe de France and three Coupe de la Ligue titles, Strasbourg also won the 1995 UEFA Intertoto Cup and are among France’s most decorated and historic clubs.
The fantastic support the team receives from its loyal fans at the Stade de la Meinau has never wavered, not even during the club’s toughest times over the past six years, and the atmosphere they create is something that Ligue 1 needs in the future.
The Derby de l’Est against neighbours FC Metz is something that will have to wait after les Grenats’ promotion to Ligue 1 but whether it comes in the top flight or Ligue 2, just having Strasbourg back among the professional ranks is a big enough boost.
With Laurey now at the helm, he will have to assemble a squad capable of earning promotion to the top flight. Solving the team’s attacking issues (incredibly, they were the fifth-lowest scorers in the National) will be an immediate concern, but Dugueperoux also leaves him a solid squad with a mean defence to build the team around.
Strasbourg’s recent history suggests that an immediate return to Ligue 1 might be a little too ambitious but le Racing should definitely be looking at finishing in the top half of Ligue 2 next season. If the Alsatians can consolidate their place in the second tier, then a return to Ligue 1 in the next two to three terms could be a possibility.
With Bob Bradley’s Havre AC, Corinne Diacre’s Clermont Foot 63, Red Star FC, Racing Club de Lens, AJ Auxerre, Valenciennes FC and FC Sochaux-Montbeliard to compete with, Ligue 2 with Strasbourg will be an exciting and vibrant to place to be next campaign.