Can Bordeaux become Ligue 1 ‘Champions’?
To Stéphane Martin, the idea of success was plain and specific. At the beginning of the new season the former trader, now president of Bordeaux, was questioned on what his hopes were for the new campaign.
“To be ‘Champions’,” he told L’Equipe.
It was not, though, winning Ligue 1 that he making reference to. No, he knows that that spot is assigned to the two heavyweights of the league – Paris Saint-Germain or Monaco – and he knows competing with the riches of the pair is nearly impossible. It is something different he was suggesting.
What Martin was making reference to was being « les premiers des moins riches » – the ‘first of the less wealthy’ – or 3rd place in simpler terms, and it was not something said airily. Its attainability is something he is aware of – Nice, in the wake of their imposing finish last season behind runners-up PSG, are evidence, and the blueprint he pointed to at the time. The parallel is somewhat fitting.
Like Nice, Bordeaux seem inconceivably young; the age of the squad, on average, hardly exceeds 24 – only OL and LOSC are younger. Like Nice, Jocelyn Gourvennec’s side play a quick, expansive brand of football. Like Nice, confined financially, Bordeaux’s player recruitment has been shrewd – most notably the often unsung forward, Nicolas De Préville, €10 million; the vibrant winger Jonathan Cafú, €7.5 million; the poised defensive-midfielder Otávio, €5 million; the versatile Lukas Lerager, €3.5 million; the former PSG full-back Youssouf Sabaly, €4 million – each player identified carefully and efficiently to conform to the demands of manager Jocelyn Gourvennec. Each pinpointed as a pathway to leading Bordeaux to the next level. The plan was constructed, and the results are beginning to follow.
Gourvennec’s spirited, youthful side lie in seventh place just a point shy of the top six. In Malcom, their crown jewel , and topscorer with five goals so far, Bordeaux have a reliable, productive attacking presence, alongside four assists. They stood unconquered in their previous 14 league matches prior to the 6-2 trouncing suffered at the Parc des Princes in game eight, and had their best start to a season in seven years.
The temptation, immediately after that match, was to suggest that its early-season fortunes were nothing more than a nine-day wonder, a stroke of luck, and that the result, effectively, was an accurate yardstick of the quality Bordeaux possessed. Yet, as, Martin emphasised after the game , they weren’t the first to taste such a defeat this season, and, above all, they won’t be the last. Gourvennec, too, struck a similar tone assessing the PSG match, “For me, it is not a revealing match of what one is able to do in the championship.” It was not a vindication of their talent and standard or, additionally, Gourvennec’s capabilities as a manager.
After all, the engine’s been revving at Bordeaux all too long, too long to be totally disrupted by a single game. The 1-1 draw at home to Nantes in the next match, and a surprising defeat against Amiens in Le Havre which followed may be more troubling, particularly with a game against Monaco coming up next, but the quality of the team cannot be denied.
For the last decade, the team has been something of a sleeping giant. European Cup semi-finalists and four-time league Champions during the 1980s and 1990s, they experienced a brief run of success since the 2008/2009 season, shadowed by a blend of steady, unremarkable mid-table finishes. Bordeaux appeared to have fallen into an unfaltering age of mediocrity.
Gourvennec, encircled by a new assembly of promising youngsters have altered that. They, finally, look to be at the very least a driving force, a team to be reckoned with.
It is far too early, without doubt, to know where, exactly, Bordeaux might finish when Ligue 1 draws its curtain next May. Countless twists and turns lie ahead. Will they cross the finish line as ‘Champions’ in this year’s relentless race? Don’t rule it out.