Can Rene Girard and Montpellier win Ligue 1?

tommy_doleman Roar Pro

By tommy_doleman, tommy_doleman is a Roar Pro


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    Three seasons ago, Montpellier HSC earned promotion from Ligue 2. They then caught the eye with a fifth placed finish and qualification for the Europa League.

    However, the climb up the French League table was halted the next year, as the team contracted a bad case of second season syndrome and finished mid-table.

    Now, they’re back in form once again, this time challenging for the title. This time, however, they’re in a head-to-head battle with moneybags Paris St Germain, following a 2-1 win over Sochaux on the weekend.

    La Palliade could even afford to concede their first goal at the Stade de la Mosson in 2012 as they recorded an impressive 14th home win for the season, thanks to goals from Younes Belhanda and Soulemayne Camara. It was a win that was both comprehensive and comfortable against a side entrenched in a relegation battle at present, but who still boast dangerous counter-attacking talents such as Ryad Boudebouz, Marvin Martin and Modibo Maiga.

    That win had earlier moved Montpellier three points clear of the Parisian giants ahead of Sunday’s Clasico with Marseille at the Parc Des Princes, only for the big spending capital side to draw level at the summit once again, with Alex’s winner sealing a 2-1 win.

    Olympique de Marseille once again play their part in the Ligue 1 title race on Wednesday as they host the side from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The visitors will arrive at the Stade Velodrome knowing that three points against last season’s champions will put them in pole position to win a first ever French league title heading into the final seven games of the season.

    This is remarkable given that this team finished 14th in the division in 2010-11 and have only spent what is believed to be approximately €2 million in the summer in strengthening their squad ahead of this seasons surprising title charge. The majority of that sum was spent on former Lens defender Henri Bedimo, who together with the experienced Brazilian Vitorino Hilton, have formed the most formidable defensive partnership in the competition. 34-year-old Hilton, signed on a free transfer after his deal at Marseille expired in the summer, had also played at Lens for four seasons but before Bedimo really made his name in France’s top flight.

    They also boast the second best attack in the division thanks mainly to 18-goal top scorer of Ligue 1 Olivier Giroud, signed two seasons ago from second division Tours after scoring over 50 goals in three years from 2008/09. The 6”3 striker, known for his physical prowess and ability in the air, is one of the most watched footballers on the continent and won’t be short of suitors in the summer as a possible league winner’s medal, golden boot and likely Euro 2012 call-up would suggest. Add to that, an impressive strike rate at his current club of a goal every two games and seven assists, currently the equal fourth best in the division.

    The 25-year-old might not have scored the hat-trick that he did in the reverse fixture at Sochaux, but his involvement was still true, particularly when his parried shot led to Belhanda’s finish from a swift counter-attack in the fourth minute. Belhanda himself has already caught the eye of many big European sides, and while most of the transfer attention in the summer will surround Europe’s hottest prospect Eden Hazard, it will hardly surprise if the 22-year-old Moroccan is also in the spotlight having enjoyed a true breakthrough season. Best known perhaps for his dribbling and crossing out wide, he’s taken on a more central role this season, allowing him to see more of the ball and provide spark and output in the final third, somewhat of a masterstroke from manager Rene Girard.

    Girard, the mastermind of the Montpellier charge, spent four years as France assistant manager in the period where they won the FIFA World Cup and European Championship. He spent a total of 10 years with the national team, seeing him manage France’s under-16, under-19 and most recently the under-21 team.

    Unsurprisingly, it seems his experiences in that setup has helped him to build a team laced with talented youngsters, who continue to flourish and enjoy their football under his guidance. In his playing career, he was a tenacious midfielder that won three titles with Bordeaux, and was said to be an irritating, under your skin type, that was occasionally nasty in conjunction with his fine technical ability. It’s the reproduction of that fire into his style of management that has helped to develop a mental steeliness into a largely youthful and exciting side who continue to remain grounded despite their efforts thus far.

    That said, it would be a miracle if Montpellier could hold on to win the title and qualify for the Champions League next season. While it would be an incredible feat, it is equally refreshing to onlookers that good management, sensible spending and developing youth can possibly end with a fairytale in a football world dominated by dirty cash and fickle boardrooms.

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    The Crowd Says (7)

    • April 11th 2012 @ 5:36am
      nordster said | April 11th 2012 @ 5:36am | ! Report

      Lille one year, Montpellier the next! Hope they can keep it up.

      while PSG might be better for Ancelotti long term they have taken a hit switching mid season when they looked pretty comfortable. Pastore especially looks a shadow.

      Enjoyed the classico on the weekend, a good league to follow with the A-league premiership all done. This and ACL has me covered. 🙂

      • Roar Pro

        April 11th 2012 @ 11:15am
        tommy_doleman said | April 11th 2012 @ 11:15am | ! Report


        I’m also a big fan of Ligue 1, think it’s a very under-rated competition that definitely doesn’t get the credit. You only have to look at the amount of young French and African players that have been blooded there over the years, not to mention the current crop of Hazard, the Ayew’s and Belhanda as mentioned.

        Remarkable story about Montpellier but can they finish off the job? Going to be tough at Marseille on Wednesday but it shapes up as such an important tie for the title. A lot of people perhaps expected them to drop off and for PSG to kick on, but it’s gone the other way!

        Pastore has completely lost form, but Menez has continued to produce having moved more central. Doesn’t help when Gameiro and Hoarau are injured, and with Erdinc obviously out on loan, there’s not a lot of options up top.

    • April 11th 2012 @ 11:19am
      Joe said | April 11th 2012 @ 11:19am | ! Report

      Enjoyable piece to read tommy keep it coming, it’s great to see some input on the Roar from other leagues as well, makes for a good variety reading.

      marseille to win and psg to overtake and win the league (and do okay in the ucl when they spend more of the qatari billions)

    • Roar Pro

      April 11th 2012 @ 12:52pm
      tommy_doleman said | April 11th 2012 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

      Cheers Joe,

      Thanks for the feedback, first piece I’ve written for a little while on here, so it’s good to be back!

      Would love to see Montpellier win at OM, but it’s going to be tough, and if they do lose you wonder whether it’d be psychologically damaging and whether it would somewhat knock the wind out of the sails after such an effort to this point. The ownership situation there is fascinating as well, in stark contrast to PSG, so worth reading about that!

    • April 11th 2012 @ 5:17pm
      Matt F said | April 11th 2012 @ 5:17pm | ! Report

      It’s ncie to see some different teams winning Ligue 1 after the period of Lyon dominance, especially teams that haven’t traditionally been considered the biggest teams, though obviously PSG and Marseille are well in the hunt. It’s also nice to see that PSG aren’t running away with the league despite their financial advantage.

      The French league is certainly a very good quality league. Some of it’s (now former) players have certainly helped my Newcastle side this season! 🙂

    • Columnist

      April 12th 2012 @ 8:32am
      Tony Tannous said | April 12th 2012 @ 8:32am | ! Report

      Enjoyable read Tommy, power to the investment in youth

    • Roar Pro

      April 12th 2012 @ 12:30pm
      tommy_doleman said | April 12th 2012 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

      3-1 win for Montpellier over OM last night at the Velodrome – Advantage to La Palliade’

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