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.
For those who like my occasional updates from the French league, the big news of the weekend was that Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille chose in different ways to reinforce the idea that it is PSG and the rest in Ligue 1.
Do not worry. Salut! Sunderland is not about to test your digestive systems with another reference to andouillettes, re-encountered on a recent trip to Paris to catch Sunderland the play.
The clip appears as a mark of respect to the supporters of Montpellier – Montpellier Hérault Sport Club in full – who made the long journey to Paris at the weekend and were rewarded with a 2-2 draw against moneybags PSG to stay within a point of them at the top of Ligue 1.
They came up with the marvellous chant at the Parc des Princes:
Vous avez le Qatar, nous avons le gros lard.
The first bit is easy, simply reflecting the present ownership of Paris Saint-Germain.
The second – le gros lard meaning fatso – honours one Louis “Loulou” Nicollin, president of Montpellier and seemingly a man who ate all the pies, and probably Desperate Dan’s cow pies at that, followed by all the chips, all the Big Texans, all the McDo quarterpounders and all the pâtisserie and ice cream, washing it down with gallons (or, this being France, multiples of 4.54609 litres) of non-diet cola.
Sadly, Loulou – weighing in heavily at number 311 on France’s rich list, thanks to our need for waste handling businesses of the type he runs so successfully – was not present at the stadium to enjoy the tribute to his girth. He planned to go but, fearing his attendance was all too often fatal to Montpellier’s chances, decided at the last minute to watch it at home, alone.
Since this is the first French Fancies for a while, let me bring you up to date. After PSG and Montpellier at the top come, some way behind, Lille, Marseille, Lyon and Saint-Etienne, the team for which Steed made just one substitute appearance before handing in his notice. He might at least have waited in case there was a walk-on part for him in the film to be made of Sunderland the play but with Saint-Etienne the setting instead of Wearside.
At the bottom, poor old Nice – having ditched our own Eric Roy in November – are stuck on 20 points with FC Sochaux-Montbéliard, but sit just above them on goal difference. Patrice Carteron, once the scorer of a goal for Sunderland against Newcastle United, continues to confound my gloomy forecast at the start of the season, his promoted Dijon side currently 13th, five points clear of the drop zone.
And in Ligue 2, because Pete Sixsmith likes to know about these things, we find Bastia, Reims and Clermont Foot in the promotion places with Sess’s old club and Monsieur Salut’s own city-in-law, Le Mans, fourth bottom – after just missing promotion last season – and hovering perilously above Boulogne, Monaco (how the mighty have fallen, Your Serene Highness) and Amiens.
But the week, and therefore French Fancies, belongs to Loulou, our favourite fat man.
Last but one edition of French Fancies for the season: saluting the ladies of Lyon, commiserating with Le Mans, wishing one former Sunderland man well for tomorrow, when Ligue 1 relegation is settled, while congratulating a second on winning promotion last night. And, for once, no digs at Bordeaux …
The French season is nearly over – the remaining Ligue 1 relegation issue, who goes down with Lens and Arles-Avignon, will be resolved tomorrow night. The Sunderland interest is Eric Roy, manager of Nice, who need a point at Valanciennes to be sure.
Nice could lose and still survive but would need Nancy (home to Lens) or Caen (home to Marseille) to lose, or Monaco only to draw at home to Lyon. Une histoire compliqué, as the French might say and Eric knows he’d be a fool to rely on one of the results elsewhere going his way.