Ligue 1 – 28th day: Can a Canary make spring? When Nantes relearns ambition

It was 11 months ago. Coming out of yet another home defeat against Lyon, FC Nantes had one foot in the grave. 19th in the standings on the evening of the 33rd day, the club from the banks of the Erdre seemed to be heading straight for a new relegation to Ligue 2. Saved on the wire during a stifling barrage against Toulouse, the Canaries had finally avoided the worst. , but who could have imagined that a spring later, they would find themselves in the race for Europe, and rather twice than once.

Finalist of the Coupe de France and now 6th in the championship, the FCN is preparing to experience its most exciting spring since 2004, the date of its last national final (in the Coupe de la Ligue, final lost on penalties against Sochaux). That year, Nantes had finished 6th in the league and Europe had therefore slipped away from it.

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But 18 years, two descents and as many ascents later, this spring 2022, certainly anecdotal in view of the club’s rich history, is a breath of fresh air. It is enough to see the images of the lawn invaded on Wednesday by the people of Beaujoire after the qualification against Monaco to measure how violent the withdrawal was.

Invasion of the field, Beaujoire on fire: Nantes as in its finest hours

A rhythm of… champion for three months

Last week, in four days, Antoine Kombouaré’s men punched their ticket to the Stade de France in quick succession and then mathematically validated their maintenance by winning against Montpellier (2-0). It was certainly no longer really a threat, but the Nantes coach did not want to waste this pleasure after the trying 2021 season.We have the maintenance points, we have 42 points, it’s exceptionalhe made a point of emphasizing last Sunday. We are experiencing something great right now. We know that we will be in Ligue 1 next season. We can be proud of what we accomplish. »

If the Nantes situation is very enviable compared to the previous year, it is just as unexpected given the fragility of the position of the Yellows just three months ago. At the beginning of December, in « prime time », the band in Kombouaré lost at home against OM during the 16th day. A 5th consecutive game without a win (two draws, three defeats). Nantes fell to 13th place, closer to the play-off place than to the dizziness of Europe. Even if the FCN has extenuating circumstances after having crossed a zone of turbulence in terms of calendar (OM after PSG and Lille), the specter of a new campaign at best bleak, at worst very tense, reappears its nose.

For Alban Lafont and FC Nantes, there is joy!

Credit: Imago

100 days later, the decor has therefore radically changed, at the cost of a period such as the club had not known for an entire quarter for ages. So there is this epic journey in the Coupe de France with this final as a collective reward, for the players, the staff, and its supporters. But in Ligue 1, it’s not bad either. It is even exceptional.

It’s simple, since this low point of December 1, that is to say over the last 11 days, Nantes has posted a rhythm of… champion: 23 points. 7 wins (including one, prestigious, against PSG), 2 draws, 2 defeats. No one has scored more points on this sequence which still represents between a quarter and a third of the championship. A duration long enough not to be anecdotal.

Point taken over the last 11 days

1. FC Nantes23
2.OGC Nice22
3. Paris SG21
3. RC Strasbourg21
3. Lille OSC21

Now that the support is set, we will be able to try to go and see higher

How to explain such a metamorphosis when, fundamentally, the workforce has changed little in the off-season? “Last year, they scared each other so now you have morbacs, they always want more, we just have to channel”, judged Kombouaré after qualifying for the final of the Coupe de France. Rather than reinventing the wheel, the Nantes staff would therefore have above all carried out a psychological restoration. Like an Alban Lafont, whose talent was known to all, but whose new authority in the Nantes goal installed him as leader of the group and at the gates of the France team.

One match away from their first title since 2001, two points from the Top 5 in Ligue 1, Nantes have gone from a probable disaster to a possible ambition. « Now that the support is set, we will be able to try to go and see higher« , admitted Antoine Kombouaré, even if Nicolas Pallois, also in the thick of it, sweeps away any runaway in old veteran of this otherwise rather young group. « That, you will see with the coachhe smiled after the victory against Montpellier. We will try to keep this momentum but we have still had a lot of chain for a month. »

It’s true, the people of Nantes have given a lot in recent weeks and if, at home, the team is carried by the fervor of Beaujoire (« At home, the public really helps us to have a second wind« , judge striker Randal Kolo Muani), she appeared sluggish in Metz during her last outing far from her bases in the league (0-0). Not to be forgotten before the trip to Troyes, this weekend and while the team will have to travel three times in their next four games, with 11 rounds still to go and nothing says the Canaries can match the impressive pace of the previous 11 rounds.

Kombouaré: « Earning a lot of money, having a nice car, that’s good… but what we’re going through here… »

The future remains a question mark

Moreover, if a Canary may make the spring, a single spring will not make FC Nantes. Yes, this 2021-2022 financial year will have given the yellow house a bit of a boost. But being part of the long term, this is what has been lacking for twenty years now in this former stronghold of French football which, by dint of gunning down its DNA, had ended up looking for a raison d’être. This season and this spring may have a cost. Kolo Muani has already signed up with Frankfurt for next season. Retaining Ludovic Blas promises to be at least as complicated, as the talent of the attacking midfielder does not leave anyone indifferent. Ditto for Alban Lafont.

Beyond the workforce, the deep identity crisis will not be resolved in a quarter, or even a season. President Waldemar Kita, invigorated by recent developments, remains challenged. What will FC Nantes look like in five years, in ten years? And with who ? The club remains first of all a sum of questions over the long term.

Still, after having had a foot and a half above the precipice last year, the Canaries would be very wrong not to savor what they have just experienced for three months. And even less what they can run for in the next two.

Nicolas Palois (FC Nantes)

Credit: Getty Images

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