When the Qatari Sports Investments group bought a controlling stake in Paris Saint-Germain last May, a new era for French football was heralded. The money the Qataris have brought with them to the Parisian club could dictate the future of the Ligue 1 title for many years to come and while this season remains in the balance, there’s a chance the inevitable PSG dominance could be put off for a year. So why haven’t football’s ‘hipsters’ jumped aboard the good ship Montpellier?
It wouldn’t have been good news for Lille, Marseille nor Lyon. The confirmation that Javier Pastore was heading to PSG for €42m – added to the signings of striker Kevin Gameiro (€11m), Blaise Matuidi (€10m) and Jérémy Ménez (€8m) – the Parisians had spent €83m (£72m), on eight players, in just one month. Pastore, as the marquee signing, proved PSG’s pulling power around Europe under their new owners and surely sent signals of power not only across France, but to all of Europe. The dozing giant that is Paris Saint-Germain (they were 1st in UEFA’s Team Ranking in 1998 but have not won a title in 18 years) had been woken, given a whole pile of money and told to get off its arse. And get off its derrière, it has.
Currently top of Ligue 1, few will tell you they don’t deserve to be there, on the balance of things. But overall, France’s Manchester City haven’t been quite as dominant as their pre-season spending spree may have insisted. They’re only top by two points. It’s a lead so slender that already ‘squeaky bum-time’ or ‘temps bum qui grince’ (thanks, Google) has been declared between France’s front-runners.
Surprisingly though, the team two points back are that of perennial title no-hopers, Montpellier Herault Sport Club. La Paillade have never won a the French topflight title and yet, against the odds, they’re hanging to the tail feathers of PSG and forcing the oil-rich, Ancelotti-led league leaders to glance nervously over their shoulders. Better than that, Montpellier have actually been top for a large portion of the season – having never left the top four in the division all term.
It is with longevity in the boardroom that Montpellier have been able to build upon. Their owner, Luis Nicollin, while not quite right in the head (He once said of a coach: “I couldn’t care less, so long as he gets me in to the top division. If he’d been selling drugs or raping young girls, I wouldn’t accept that. But I don’t worry about such silly things.”) is France’s longest serving owner with 37 years of owning 99.9% of the club under his rather rotund belt. But Nicollin, for all his antics, has been a steady hand in guiding his club. He’s kept a hold of manager René Girard, the man responsible for this brilliant, title-chasing team and that is no mean feat, considering Girard might have joined Bordeaux last season.
Manager René Girard, who has spent the majority of his coaching career involved in the French national team set-up, has managed to use the previous Montpellier ethos, mixing exciting youthful players alongside the experience of some slightly older ones, to great effect.
What our underdogs have in their favour heading into the run-in, is a foundation of understanding. Many of the Montpellier squad have played together since their promotion to Ligue 1 back in 2009. The few additions to this squad have been from the club’s own production line and if proof was needed that they possess a talented team – Olivier Giroud is it.
Perhaps the most exciting striker in French football, Giroud is big, strong and clinical – with the ability to be entirely ubiquitous in the final third. Giroud, with 15 goals this campaign, is backed-up by a strong spine, with Moroccan playmaker Younes Belhanda often the outstanding player in Girard’s side. Beyond that, former Portsmouth man John Utaka has been a superb from wide positions this season, Jamel Saihi has been decent in central midfield and Vitorino Hilton’s partnership with the young captain, Mapou Yanga-M’Biwa, has been – at times – very solid indeed.
So it is now then, that I must call for the help of the hipsters. They’ve backed Napoli to a Champions League quarter-final, cheered Dortmund to top of the Bundesliga and even given Bielsa’s Bilbao enough backing to see off Manchester United in the Europa League. I’m telling you, their powers know no limits.
But if they can summon the energy to give Montpellier their first ever title win and, in turn, delay PSG’s champions-r-us party in Dubai, I’ll be entirely grateful. For René Girard’s side have given it their all this season and deserve a moment to bask in the glory of French superiority. On the plus side, Montpellier’s percentage of capacity attendance is 47.8% – meaning they’re hipster gold, because apparently no-one cares about them yet (or so we’ll have them think). So, take off your Cosmos shirt, sign out from Twitter and come with me.
We’re off to the South of France.
“Montpellier champions? Impossible. All I’m worried about is that we might qualify for the Europa League. That’d really p*ss me off. What a rubbish competition!”
- Montpellier owner Louis Nicollin, in November -