Montpellier – after the storm

Ait Fana crop

Claudio Ranieri was sacked as Leicester Manager on Thursday – and on Friday, his statement was widely shared, starting “yesterday, my dream died”.

As Leicester headed for the title last season, parallels were drawn with Montpellier’s win in 2011/12, which we addressed. Now, with Leicester still in the Champions League but in big trouble in the Premier League, it seems a good time to look at what happened next for MHSC.

Title-winning top-scorer Olivier Giroud was sold to Arsenal; followed by captain and stalwart centre-back Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to Newcastle in January after the Champions League campaign ended at the group stage.

Of those matches, the home loss to Arsenal (1-2 in the first game) was voted game of the season by the supporters. Yes, a loss. Because despite the two quick-fire goals given up after an opening penalty from Younes Belhanda, they fought hard, and well, and were unlucky not to get at least a point.

The games that bit were those against Olympiakos, as Montpellier gave up a 1-0 lead to two quick-fire goals (is a pattern emerging…?) to lose at home, before a 3-1 loss away. So, away at the Emirates, the fans decided to say *fuck it* and celebrate imaginary goals as their team lost 2-0 – Mapou playing in defensive midfield to cover for a staffing crisis, which may have played a part in NUFC getting confused as to his position – and they finished bottom of the group with only 2 points. But those were both against the group winner, Schalke.

The first was the away leg where MHSC played half an hour down to ten men after Garry Bocaly was sent off for seriously injuring Julian Draxler; the second featured another staffing crisis as third-choice goalkeeper Jonathan Ligali, who’d had only one senior game before then (a 1-0 loss to Lyon a few days earlier), put in a great performance.

The Champions’ League was also the scene for some other bittersweet moments – Karim Ait-Fana, the man to score le but dans l’histoire, was dogged by injury the following year. He was released by the club in July 2015 having played just 15 games in three seasons – after a year as a free agent, he is now at Nimes. But he scored the first at Schalke.

Soulemyane Camara got the second, in injury time. He’s one of the few players still at the club from that title-winning side – the others being goalkeepers Geoffrey Jourdren and Laurent Pionnier, stalwart centre-back and now captain Hilton, and an extremely fleeting appearance from right-back Mathieu Deplagne, then 19. Camara has one goal so far this season – the first in a two-goal fightback for a draw away at Lorient. He’s now 34, and slowing down – but the former Senegalese international gets a welcome like you wouldn’t believe when he is subbed on late in the game.

In 2012/13 Camara got 12 goals, as did mercurial playmaker Younes Belhanda – he was sold that summer – and mildly unfortunate Emmanuel Herrera got 10, but between them they couldn’t replace Giroud’s contribution. Things ended OK, however, with a ninth-place finish. There was a slightly shaky start, as a team unused to European competition and featuring many new faces had to get to grips with the schedule, and they briefly hit the heights of sixth, before a drop-off after it was announced that Rene Girard would be leaving at the end of the season.

Since then, Montpellier have been coached by Jean Fernandez, Rolland Courbis (slight return), Frederic Hantz, with Pascal Baills variously filling in, and now Jean-Louis Gasset. Girard worked – or rather didn’t – at Lille and Nantes, and is currently available for employment.

For Montpellier, therefore, there wasn’t the same European success as for Leicester, but at least they managed to avoid getting into a relegation battle until the second season after winning the title. That was a fairly close-run thing.

MHSC post-title evolution

MHSC post-title evolution

No Montpellier fan at the beginning of 2011/12 thought that their club would win the title – no Leicester fan at the beginning of 2015/16 likewise. We might have dreamed – but that’s different. But after those perfect storms, both had seasons that could better be described as a bloody nightmare. But Montpellier have plugged away – Courbis got them up to seventh in 2014/15, and Hantz to twelfth in 2015/16 – despite the traditional loss of key players every summer, and sometimes January too. That hasn’t happened to Leicester – yet. It seems inevitable that there will be an exodus this summer, whatever the result of the league campaign.

They’re frustratingly inconsistent, of course – managing to lose 5-1 to both Lyon and Marseille, but beating PSG 3-0; putting four past Bordeaux but messing up to the teams around them in the bottom half. But they do seem to be trying, as in narrow 2-1 losses to Monaco and Nice recently. Which again, doesn’t seem to have happened to Leicester – yet.

It’s easy to ask “would you change a thing?” when the honest answer would probably be “weeeeeellll…..”. It maybe goes too far to say that any price is worth paying to have achieved glory. But the last word should go to the man who joined Monaco on a two-year deal in summer 2012, won Ligue 2 in 2012/13, and then came second in Ligue 1 in 2013/14, with 80 points. Second in Ligue 1 in their promotion season. Monaco didn’t extend his contract.

“It was a time of wonderfulness and happiness that I will never forget”

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