Arsenal Target Olivier Giroud And How Montpellier Beat PSG To The Title
This year finally delivered what we were foreseeing for a while. Middle East is now officially reigning on world football. Qatar has been named host of an improbable world cup, Manchester City finally reached the top of the Premier League, Malaga came out of nowhere to grab a Champions League spot in la Liga and new Qatari owners saw Paris-Saint-Germain began its reign over the Ligue 1. Unless this last one never existed. Unless someone dared defying oil-flavored dollars. What can possibly beat that?
Garbage-flavored Euros can apparently. The Montpellier Herault football club is run by a charismatic chairman named Louis Nicolin who also happened to be leading a successful domestic garbage collection company. He is actually using tons of Qatari petrol to keep his affair going… How did this family business managed to produce an undisputable champion when modern football is seemingly run by money?
Let’s rewind the tape back to the previous summer and analyze what happened to them in the last twelve months.
June 2011: Lille, Marseille and Lyon are once more sharing between them the top three positions in the league. They will play the Champions League and pocket the cash offered to do so. In the meantime, Paris’ board unrolled the red carpet for their new Qatari friends, allowing their cash to flow in and making a bookies’ favorite out of the local team.
But what was then expected of a team like Montpellier? They were part of a pack heading for the “ventre mou” (ie. floppy belly) of the table where you don’t have much to play for. Not threatened by the always fat relegation group, and having to rely on cup runs to hope for a Europa League qualification. The sort of destiny Everton fans has been facing for years in the Premier League.
Montpellier was quickly tagged as the traditional “late summer surprise”, reaching the top of the table on day 3 and most remarkably pocketing all three points when visiting reigning champion Lille on day 2. Their front man appeared early in the top scorers’ list and helped the club gather a bit more attention than usually from the medias. Football talk shows were then asking themselves: “How long before they collapse and join the ranks?”
Specialists thought they had their answer when the first hiccup emerged with a neat 3-0 home defeat to Paris on day height. On that precise evening, they looked like the average team they were expected to be. To offer a clear denial to all the sports journalists in the country, they then went on a height matches unbeaten run and finished the first half of the season in second place, just three points behind the “almighty” Parisians.
At this stage, journalists still did not want to take them seriously. They were doomed to achieve less in the new year, partially because of the African cup of nations to which a handful of their players were taking part. Among them, was a Moroccan gem named Younes Belhanda. He had been a key element of Montpellier’s attacking force, tearing up the enemy lines with his pace and ball skills. That was nicely adding to the ever growing reputation of Arsenal target Olivier Girroud on the front row. Well, without him January was meant to be a nightmare.
They often played fairly well and sometimes brilliantly,which leaves no room at all for mediocre performances.
Once more they proved many people wrong by keeping the pace set by the leading team. They did as well with Remy Cabella taking the spot left vacant by Belhanda. So much that at the end of February, when Montpellier visited Paris they were second for just a single point.
On this Sunday evening with all the lights set towards them, they provided their most accomplished performance to date with a ball control that seduced all the non-Parisian watching their TV screen. They really were unlucky not to win and get in the leading seat as they had to settle for a draw. But the disease was spreading.
A week later they overtook Paris in the table and took a psychological advantage. The country was now officially in love with Montpellier, the tiny structure denying Paris the glory everybody considered factice. The long lived anti-Parisian syndrome was now reaching its climax outside the capital. Public opinion was clearly behind Montpellier and every neutral wanted to see them go all the way to the trophy.
In this way they did not disappointed as they finished the season as they started it, piling up the surgical victories (plenty of 1-0 scores). They never really left any doubt even if Paris followed them so closely that there was still an intricate possibility of seeing them finish in second position before the last kick-off.
In the end, they made it with a mixed team, made of clever cheap buys (Girroud or Bedimo), others unwanted in their previous club (Bocaly and Hilton from Marseille), old wise men passing on their long Ligue 1 experience (Dernis, Jeunechamps or Pitau) and an exceptional generation of youngster who won the youth French cup two years ago (goalkeeper Jourden, Belhanda, Yanga Mbiwa or Cabella).
Overall, they deserved this title. It was hard fought; Paris managed the best ever points tally for a team ranked second while Montpellier equaled the best total Lyon had once when they were free of any competition in the league. They often played fairly well and sometimes brilliantly, which leaves no room at all for mediocre performances.
A regularity Paris and others will have to achieve to overcome their flawless performances as it seems that the big implosion consisting of their best elements leaving for fame and wages may not happen at all after all. Belhanda already confirmed he wanted to live a Champions’ league season with Montpellier, Girroud and Yanga Mbiwa although much looked after, might take the same decision and allow the club to restart with an unchanged team able to challenge the big bucks once again.
What’s for sure is that this surprising season will not be forgotten early my French football fans…
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