Bureaucracy Round-Up : Evian – it’s a waterfall
The summer ‘break’ in football is a time for many things – international tournaments, transfer rumours, ill-advised posts on instagram from your favourite players, confusing pre-season matches against Austrian amateur sides that somehow end up on TV anyway, and – in France at least – admin, which is definitely in the top five national sports.
The DNCG (financial overseer of French football) has a habit of handing out startlingly harsh verdicts that can block promotions, put clubs out of business, enforce relegation, and kick teams when they are already down. Their first foray into this area this summer relates to Evian Thonon Gaillard.
ETG in their current iteration were formed in 2007 from a merger of several teams and, starting in CFA, won three promotions (all as champion) in four years to make it up to Ligue 1 in 2011/12. While focus that season was on Montpellier’s unexpected title win, another surprise was that the newly-promoted team finished in the top half, in ninth place. The following season they made it to the final of the Coupe de France, losing to Bordeaux, but their league form dropped off, and they had near-misses with relegation, finishing 16th and 14th before finally going down in 18th place in 2014/15. It turned out that having Daniel Wass taking freekicks and the fourth highest conversion rate in the league is not sufficient to stay up when you otherwise barely bother to shoot and your defence couldn’t keep out a determined snail if it was heading vaguely in the direction of the goal. They scored 41, conceded 62, and ended up in Ligue 2.
As is traditional, they then lost most of their better players, and while their attack did a bit better at a lower level, thanks to on-loan-from-Atletico Sekou Keita with nine, and not-yet-sold-but-make-them-an-offer Kevin Hoggas with eight, their defence remained fairly terrible and when your third top-scorer is the man, the myth – he’s forty years old – Cedric Barbosa, the word ‘unsustainable’ does come to mind. This was also true on a financial front. As the club finished 18th in the league, secured back-to-back relegations and prepared for life in the third-tier National, the DNCG stepped in.
The watchdog’s role is to ensure that clubs’ accounts are sound and finances sufficient to keep them going. On 5th July, they provisionally relegated Evian one division further, to CFA. The club submitted two rescue plans (one predicated on being in Ligue 2, but given that the DNCG might well relegate somebody else from there leaving a spot free for the first relegee, not as weird as it might appear), but these were not accepted, and relegation has been confirmed. The club, in the traditionally chippy official communique, say they are looking into the possibility of an appeal.
Now – the hearing on 13 July was an appeal, so the DNCG route may be over, but readers of this column over the seasons will be aware that this is not necessarily the end of the matter. There are many other tribunals, appeals and commissions that can get involved – including local magistrates and the CNOSF (not a target on Pokemon Go, but the French Olympic committee), although Evian may have picked the wrong year to self-combust for that to be an avenue.
Now, as well as the impact on the club, the knock-on effects of these decisions can cause chaos in the divisional structure. First, the draw for the first two rounds of the Coupe de la Ligue has already happened – Evian drawn against fellow relegees Creteil, who went down with 66 goals conceded. The league cup is only open to professional teams, so the first draw included the 20 Ligue 2 teams for next season, the three relegees (Paris FC the third), and National side Chateauroux as they held onto professional status despite being relegated from Ligue 2 last summer. Normally teams just relegated to National can do this for a season or two to allow for a transition to amateurism (while contracts run out, etc) but it’s not clear if Evian would be able to in the fully amateur (plus reserve sides) CFA. However, the draw has been made, and that means there’s paperwork, so this could well still go ahead.
Second, as Rich Allen has pointed out, there’s the question “who replaces them/will they be replaced?”. National is a league of 18 teams, with four having been relegated to CFA. The simplest answer would be that 15th placed Les Herbiers will get to stay up, but that would involve applying common sense. Apart from anything else, CFA is split into four groups, with the winner of each getting promotion to National – if there is one extra place to hand out, which group gets it? The highest-pointed second team is Group B’s Grenoble with 89 – but they already had more points than C and D’s champions Pau and Concarneau. It should also be remembered that the league and federation have spent the last season faffing around with the number of promotion / relegation places between leagues so ‘will they be replaced?’ is a very valid question.
Third, the smart money is that we have not yet seen the end of the DNCG’s summer activities. Creteil, for example, were hopeful of staying in Ligue 2 despite their woeful record because AC Ajaccio’s finances were also in the watchdog’s sights – another of yesterday’s appeal decisions was that the Corsican club can stay up with a wage-cap (“encadrement de la masse salariale“). So this could end up like many previous seasons, when we got a plaintive email from one of our writers saying, basically, “how the f–k can I preview a league when I don’t know who the f–k will be playing in it?”.
Meanwhile, Evian are doing the only thing they can, and getting their pre-season under way. Their next match is against CFA’s Annecy, having already been done 5-0 by one of the promotees to National, Lyon-Duchère, in which they also had Gessym Monnier sent off. As their website puts it, “a heavy defeat, but tonight minds and thoughts were very probably elsewhere”.
Things are not looking great.