Our last look of the season at French football takes in ups and downs and (tenuous) Sunderland links at both ends of the table …
The poster for Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon rugby club at the nearby Toulon-Hyères airport gives you an idea of which shape of ball matters most in the area Monsieur Salut calls home. Winners of the Heineken cup in Dublin (against Clermont) and this coming weekend in the French championship cup final against Castres. Wilkinson, who just keeps on scoring match after match, has become a local hero.
But another thirtysomething English sportsman in France has been prominent in the French press. As everyone knows, David Beckham was warmly received for his short sojourn at Paris Saint-Germain and, after neither disgracing himself nor covering himself in glory in his relatively limited playing time, has now retired. Le Journal du Dimanche wished him well but could not resist mentioning that he’d made “only two decisive passes” in his PSG career.
PSG romped predictably to the title, my preference Olympique Lyonnais, Steed and all, having faded badly just as the moneyed Parisians became stronger. Twelve points behind PSG in second place were the absurd Joey Barton’s pals at Marseille; even OM’s best friends say their football has been utterly turgid all season, illustrated by a goal difference of just six despite winning 21 and losing only nine.
Nice, an unfashionable club in a fashionable spot, took the other Champions League place finishing fourth with a last-day 2-0 win in Corsica (Ajaccio). I wish I could say our former midfielder Eric Roy had led them to this unexpected success – this, after all, is a team that plays to just 10,000, only 55 per cent of the stadium capacity, each home game – but they got rid of him in 2011.
They may not get far in the Champions League but may have the longest name: plain Nice to me, Olympique Gymnaste Club Nice Côte d’Azur in full.
At the bottom, Nancy’s great escape act narrowly failed. Alfred N’Diaye’s old club looked dead and buried a couple of months ago before stringing together some decent results but finished third bottom, two points behind Ajaccio. My pal Georges the fishmonger is a Nancy fan so is feeling as if he’s been smacked in the face with a wet cabillaud (though he did have the consolation of an awayday in Dublin for Toulon’s rugby triumph).
Down with Nancy are Troyes, the club where Roy played briefly after leaving Sunderland, and Brest.
In Ligue 2, Stéphane Sessegnon would barely recognise Le Mans, my own city-in-law and where he played between 2006 and 2008. That was when the club was in Ligue 1, having reached the top flight for the fist time in 2005. Buoyed by their success, they moved to a smart new 25,000-capacity stadium but promptly went down again. Now in deep financial trouble, and with gates averaging under 8,000, they have suffered the shame of relegation from Ligue 2 and will play in the National, France’s equivalent of England’s equivalent of the old Third Division, next season unless their perilous money worries are even worse than I’ve heard.
Up with Ligue 2 champions Monaco – who still have to resolve a disagreement with the French football authorities who resent their tax-free status – go Guingamp and Nantes while Le Mans shared bottom three with Sedan and another club in Corsica’s biggest city, GFC Ajaccio.
And that’s about it for French Fancies for now. A bientôt.
** See also (from our 40th FA Cup Final anniversary series): Sunderland, Leeds and Wembley 1973: a Frenchman in search of the Roker Roar