Can 2016 Finally Prove a Vintage Year for Bordeaux?
Antony Carey is a long-suffering fan of Girondins de Bordeaux, but this season, after their early displays, it seems this new-look team has got him and the Bordelais a little bit excited.
It’s been a rough few seasons for fans of Les Girondins but after watching the 3-1 demolition of Lyon at Parc OL, a little voice in the back of my head is telling me that finally things are looking up. Fans of clubs like RC Lens languishing in Ligue 2 or the once mighty Strasbourg only now on the way back from liquidation may scoff at Bordeaux’s ‘rough few seasons’, but make no mistake – they’ve been rubbish. There’s been no spectacular insolvency, no relegations and certainly no soap-opera style meltdown à la Marseille, however there has been a decline so slow and painful to watch it’s barely been noticed. 2009’s Grand Cru that swept all before them has soured, corked, or whatever other bad wine pun you want to shoehorn in, leaving Les Girondins with the dynamism of a mill-pond.
Under Francis Gillot there were a few trips to Europe but the Europa League campaigns were limped out of with minimal impact. Then there was the Coupe de France in 2013. A fantastic evening but winning the famous old trophy just papered over the cracks and bought the club a bit more time with disgruntled fans. Next season’s defeat to the mighty Île Rousse and the ridiculous no-transfer policy slapped Gillot for much of his stay was probably much more indicative of his time in the south-west.
I am ignoring the two season of Wily Sagnol on purpose. Bizarre tactics, thumping defeats, a dressing room punch-up and a race row. Brilliant.
Then this summer, as Jarvis Cocker once sang, something changed. Towards the end of last season, it just started to all feel a bit different. Ulrich Ramé is pretty much the most popular man in Bordeaux and was a brilliant fan-pleasing choice as interim manager. Despite results picking up under Ramé, the Ultras organised a ‘day of rage’ (grrrrrr!) against Lorient after a 3-1 home spanking by Angers, the gist being that the fans are the spectacle so will make their own fun even if the players can’t be bothered. I’d bought tickets to the Lorient game long before the rage thing and found myself right at the front of the Virage Sud while all hell was breaking loose around me in an atmosphere I’ll never forget. No one was watching the game but that wasn’t really the point – it was just 90 minutes of carnage – but the catharsis of the day of rage (and the fact Bordeaux won 3-0) seemed to cheer everyone up. A draw against PSG and a defeat at Caen that nobody really cared about and that horrible season was finally over. The powers that be promised us change and it seemed finally we were going to get it.
Pinching Jocelyn Gourvennec from Guingamp was an absolute coup. Young managers are the way forward and at only 44 he fits the bill, but unlike the Sagnol debacle, Gourvennec has more than proved himself already by winning the Coupe de France with EAG. Bordeaux have gone down this route before with Gillot who worked miracles at Sochaux, however there were rarely any funds available for new signings, which crippled progress and was quite frankly embarrassing. This time at least the funds are there and it’s been the best transfer window in years. Youssouf Sabaly is a great loan signing from PSG and will make improve a defence that leaked goals for fun last year. Up front, François Kamano looked good at Bastia last year and will be looking to shine on a bigger stage – although likely to be a substitute for much of the season, he’s an exciting prospect and can hopefully fill a Wahbi Khazri-sized hole.
Without wishing to get too excited, to pull off signing both Jérémy Toulalan and Jérémy Menez is a phenomenal bit of business. Yes, they are here to reignite their careers, but so what? If it works out, having players of this quality can only be a good thing. Admittedly the Jérémies can’t have come cheap, despite being free (Gillot must be wondering where all this cash suddenly came from) but make the Champions League and you’ve made your money back – a gamble worth taking. So far Menez has slotted straight in and looks the real deal, Toulalan hasn’t had the game time to make a mark yet but I can’t see how he won’t make a positive impact.
Most importantly though Gourvennec has got the team playing again. Malcom is on fire, Diego Rolan looks like he’s had a new lease of life and Jaroslav Plasil, who many (me) thought was well past his sell-by date has played every minute of every match and is back to his best. It hasn’t been a stroll in the park, but maybe getting thrashed at TFC wasn’t a bad thing as Gourvennec has now seen the very worst of his side and responded with two wins on the bounce including the slaying of l’ogre lyonnais.
While one win at Lyon does not a season make, Bordeaux thoroughly bossed the game and played with a flair not seen for a long time. I am genuinely excited by this rebirth of Les Marine et Blanc, ok let’s be fair things could still go horribly wrong, but for us supporters of Les Girondins who have been watching negative, beige football for so long, who sat through defeats at Kairat Almaty and fourteen (14!) draws last season, for all those who held their heads high after Île Rousse and still proudly wore the maillot au Scapulaire around depressing English towns, allow us five minutes to bask in the glory of half-decent start and a bit of quality football. We flipping well we deserve it!