Why Are so Many Ligue 1 Clubs Sacking Their Managers?
With Dijon having pipped Caen to the relegation play-off spot, the dust has almost but not quite settled on the Ligue 1 season. The football is stopping but the churn of managers will continue. It is no surprise that Fabien Mercadal, who was undermined by a poor transfer market and the arrival of Rolland Courbis, has already left Caen. Nor is there much shock at the departure of Jocelyn Gourvennec from Guingamp; no amount of goodwill could save the club from relegation after a run of poor attacking performances.
The relegated clubs will take a dramatic financial hit and will probably have to sell off their best players; Caen have already lost Frédéric Guilbert to Aston Villa and various clubs around Europe are interested in signing Marcus Thuram from Guingamp. Bearing this in mind, one can hardly blame these clubs for seeking a fresh approach. But the churn is not only at the bottom.
The managers who finished first and second are at least guaranteed their jobs. Thomas Tuchel has been awarded a contract extension at PSG until 2021, which suggests the owners recognise that his shortcomings in Europe are more a product of the club’s ineptitude in the transfer market and intractability in the dressing room rather anything of his own doing.
Lille boss Christophe Galtier, who was solid if unspectacular at Saint-Étienne, has been voted manager of the year for guiding his young side to second place. This was no mean achievement for a manager known for his defensively sound approach with Saint-Étienne. Several key players – including the superb Nicolas Pépé – are likely to leave but Galtier is sticking around to lead the club into the Champions League.
While the top two are staying put, the next three clubs in the table – Lyon, Saint-Étienne and Marseille – have all parted ways with their managers. Bordeaux (twice), Monaco (twice), Dijon, Nantes, Rennes and Guingamp have also changed managers during the season. Each departure is its own story, but the common thread of ambition runs through this series of changes.
Lyon finished third under Bruno Génésio, but Jean-Michel Aulas has decided against renewing his contract this summer. Génésio was popular in the dressing room but he had clearly tested the president’s patience for the final time. They went unbeaten in their Champions League group – including a famous win over Manchester City at the Etihad – but their domestic struggles, particularly in the two cup competitions, had become a matter of frustration.
With PSG failing to win the Coupe de France or Coupe de la Ligue, Lyon were handed an ideal opportunity to secure their first trophy since 2012. However, they stumbled badly in both cups, showing an inconsistency that has plagued them in recent years. Aulas has invested considerably and expects more. Lyon are not going to be the powerhouse they were 15 years ago but Génésio’s results did not match the president’s ambition. Whether the new Brazilian power axis of manager Sylvinho and sporting director Juninho can achieve this consistency is yet to be seen, but it is clear that Aulas saw Génésio – rather than the frustrating play of Nabil Fékir or Memphis Depay – as the culprit.
Ambition would appear to be less of a motivating factor in the departure of Jean-Louis Gasset from Saint-Étienne, with the veteran manager reportedly retiring at 65. Given the success other older managers have enjoyed in recent times, it is difficult to believe that Gasset, a veteran assistant but someone who has been given precious few opportunities to lead a team, is choosing to retire. Saint Étienne’s tilt at the top three did fail at the last, but Gasset impressed in terms of his man-management and his ability to bring through young players (defender William Saliba was arguably the league’s best young player not named Mbappé in 2019), to the point that many of the club’s players have said that, if Gasset goes, they will also seek new opportunities.
With reports emerging of potential American investment at Saint-Étienne, one has to wonder whether Gasset was nudged toward the exit in a way not dissimilar to that of Rudi Garcia. Garcia has had his faults, but his departure from a Marseille project that has shown little appetite for building a cohesive sporting framework is just the latest pratfall for the impatient reign of Frank McCourt. Marseille’s season has had its wobbles but they have the makings of a young, intriguing team at the Vélodrome, and that side showed itself in flashes in winning five of six matches in March.
A heavy loss in Le Classique followed and the wind seemed to have gone out of the club’s sails but, in Garcia’s defence, he has done well to bring along the young centre-back pairing of Boubacar Kamara and Duje Caleta-Car, neither of whom seemed up to standard at the start of the season. His departure is unsurprising but it, and the exits of Génésio and Gasset, look circumspect when compared to the success that other clubs have enjoyed this season by opting for managers who have experience in the division and a healthy approach towards man-management.
Galtier is the obvious example here, but Michel Der Zakarian at Montpellier and Thierry Laurey at Strasbourg are two further examples of managers previously known for their defensive style who can keep those basic tenets in place while still offering attractive attacking football. It would be a massive shock were Galtier to be lured away from Lille by Marseille or Saint-Étienne, but both clubs could do far worse than looking towards Ligue 1 experience, rather than a quick fix in creating a plan for the future – or André Villas-Boas.
The Guardian Sport