Written by Landon Gauthier
For many younger generations of Football fans, it’ll come as some surprise that Etienne were a regular title contender in France during their hay day. Our Ligue 1 Writer Landon thinks this season hinges on wiser re-investment.
AS Saint Étienne, the most successful French club of all time, have certainly lost their step since noteworthy successes in the 1960s, 70s and 80s that saw the club win the majority of its record 10 league titles. A 5th place league finish served as a welcome surprise for the 2012-13 campaign, still a full 20 points behind title winners PSG, and ensured a Europa League third round qualifying spot by way of their French League Cup victory, the first trophy for the club in over thirty years. They will face off with Moldovan club FC Milsami on Thursday, August 1st for the chance to move onto the fourth and final qualifying round and an opportunity to compete in the group stages of the European competition.
Previously Saint Étienne finished 5th in the 2007-08 Ligue 1 season, qualifying for the UEFA Cup for the first time since 1982. It faces a few challenges in the 2013-14 campaign that could see it repeat what history has provided for: the surprising 5th place finish of 2007-08 was followed by two 17th place seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10.
The successes of the 70s and 80s were marked by a period of producing noteworthy talent with Michel Platini, Laurent Blanc and Aimé Jacquet coming through the ranks. Platini went on to have a storied career at Juventus followed by an uninspiring managerial stint with the French national team. Blanc followed suit and managed the French from 2010-12. Finally, Jacquet managed that French side that won the 1998 World Cup on home soil.
Noteworthy talent too guided the club last year in the form of Pierre-Emeric Aubameyang. His team-leading 19 league goals, a mere 11 behind golden boot winner Zlatan Ibrahimovic, guided Saint Étienne to their first relatively successful season under manager Christophe Galtier.
But the money made from Aubameyang’s transfer to German club Borussia Dortmund in July doesn’t look like it will be reinvested in summer signings. In his wake, the club have signed four players this summer; a defender and three midfielders.
Reports from French site Mercato 365 have linked Saint Étienne with English forward Carlton Cole who is out of contract with West Ham, a club where the 29-year old managed 2 goals in 27 games last season. His stint with the club hasn’t been altogether unsuccessful, though. Cole managed 47 goals in his 7 seasons with the London club, and would perhaps flourish in a physical Saint Étienne squad.
However, if the club finish the summer without any significant attacking signings, Brazilian striker Brandão will likely be called upon to duplicate the form that saw him net the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Stade Rennais in the 2013 Coupe de la Ligue final. The 33-year old finished the 2012-13 Ligue 1 campaign with 11 goals in 27 games.
Galtier will likely look to build on last year’s performance with the help of experienced and disciplined defending. One bright spot will be goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier who appeared in every league match the past two seasons, tallying 34 clean sheets in that time. The 26-year old Frenchman also has one international appearance under his belt, called up by then-coach and former Saint Étienne player Laurent Blanc in 2010.
Should they make smart attacking signings to fill the hole Aubameyang left, challenging for Europe is a clear possibility for the Europa League hopefuls. However, if that money is put elsewhere and Galtier continues to bring in players on loan and free transfers, we could see history repeat itself and life in Saint Étienne could be everything but easy.