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Montpellier surprising in Ligue 1

Much of the pre season focus on Ligue 1 was about PSG, with the club spending £75million pounds on transfer fees over the summer due to being taken over by the Qatar Investment Authority. This spending spree has seen the Parisian side go top of Ligue 1 after 12 matches, which doesn’t come as a surprise. However, no-one would have expected who their nearest challenge after 12 matches would have been. That team is Montpellier; a club from Southern France who are 3 points behind PSG with equal amount of games played, have impressed this season and are in the second Champions League place ahead of big names such as Lyon, champions Lille and Marseille. What makes their start even more impressive is the fact that they spent £73 million less in the summer than PSG, with only one of their 3 signings Henri Bedimo being acquired for a fee. They have scored 27 goals this season, which is more than any side in the league and striker Olivier Giroud is the joint top scorer in Ligue 1 this season with 10 goals so far. This start is reminiscent of that of the 2009-2010 season, in which they finished in 5th place after promotion the previous season. However, before that season, there were more lows than highs for Montpellier.


Stade Olympique Montpellierain was first founded in 1919 and had a successful merger with local football club VGAL and changed their name to Sports Olympiques Montpellierains. In 1929, they won their first trophy, the Coupe de France and in 1930, the club turned professional. After the club was relegated in 1935, they ended up in debts of £370,000 in which their committee decided to dissolve the club and start the club again with a return to the clubs founding name. After many years yo-yoing between Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, in 1969, they were playing in the CFA and had lost their professional status. The club had another unsuccessful merger in 1970 under the name Montpellier Littoral Sport Club and in 1974, another merger saw the club become Montpellier Paillade Sport Club Littoral, but you don’t have to be a genius to guess what happens next. A final merger with Louis Nicollin’s club proved to be successful and returned to the top flight after 18 years away in 1987 under the leadership of former Montpellier midfielder Michel Mezy. In 1989, the club was renamed Montpellier Herault Sport Club after financial support from Herault council and in the same year, they appointed the future France World Cup winning manager Aime Jacquet in charge, but this proved to be disastrous and he was gone after 8 months in charge, and was replaced by former manager Michel Mezy. This was also the same time period in which Montpellier had the likes of Eric Cantona, Laurent Blanc and Carlos Valderrama at their disposal. The following year, they won the Coupe de France but after they won, many players departed for better opportunities. Relegation from Ligue 1 occurred in the 1999-2000 season but they returned a season later and remained in the top division for three more seasons until relegation in the 2003-2004 season. Under the management of Rolland Courbis, they gained promotion back to the top flight in the 2008-2009 season. However, their preparation for the upcoming season was disrupted by Courbis’ departure to go to prison due to his role in financial irregularities regarding transfer fees when he was Marseille manager from 1997 to 1999. In his place came the former French under 21 manager Rene Girard, and he is the man who oversaw Montpellier’s best league finish.


Like this season, Montpellier started the season brilliantly, with the club top of the league at many stages but at the end of the season, they finished in 5th place, which meant they got a place in the Europa League. That success saw the departure of two of their best players Tino Costa and Victor Montano leave the club for Valencia and Rennes respectively. The 2010-2011 season didn’t start great with a Europa League 3rd qualifying round defeat to Hungarian outfit Gyori ETO on penalties. A bad run of form in the last few months of the season saw the outfit slip to a final position of 14th place, which was an anticlimax from last season’s 5th place finish. The highlight of the season was reaching the final of the Coupe de la Ligue, in which they lost 1-0 to Marseille. It was usual business in the summer with few players going in and out of the club. The arrivals were former Marseille centre back Hilton and Jonathan Tinhan from Grenoble, with both coming in on a free transfer. Also entering the club was Henri Bedimo, who was signed from Lens for £1.7million pounds, who was signed from the money gained from the Emir Spahic deal to Sevilla. The La Paillade started the season with 3 straight wins over Auxerre, away to reigning Ligue 1 champions Lille and Rennes before losing at home to Lyon. Despite that knockback, they got 7 points from the next 3 matches before a crushing 3-0 defeat at home to PSG but 10 points out of 12 in their next 4 matches showed that they can be seen as credible European contenders


None of this would have been possible without manager Rene Girard. Before being appointed Montpellier manager, you could argue that he hadn’t had a successful time at any club he had managed but his work with the France national team as assistant coach, before becoming the under 19’s manager, then the under 16’s manager before finally becoming the boss of the France under 21 team. However, in 88 league matches in charge of the La Paillade, he has won 41, drawn 22 and lost 26, with 109 goals scored and 98 conceded and a win percentage of 46.5%. The key factor in their rise this season is the increase in goals as they have 27 goals in 12 matches, which is only 5 less than they managed the whole of last season. This is down to the form of strikers Olivier Giroud-the joint top scorer of Ligue 1 with 10 goals and Souleymane Camara who has 5 goals, which is one more than he managed throughout the whole of last season. The defence is also strong with Geoffrey Jourden remaining a key part of the side, while Henri Bedimo and Gary Bocaly have impressed at full back, with Bocaly assisting 4 goals in 10 matches, while Mapou Yanga M’Biwa and Hilton have been strong at centre back. In midfield, Marco Estrada, Jamil Saihi and Joris Marveaux have added strength to the midfield, while former Portsmouth midfielder John Utaka and Younes Belhanda provide goals and assists to the side. One of the best things about this Montpellier side is that they add quality to the team year by year and under Girard, they have never gone on a massive spending spree.


While Montpellier fans are enjoying their teams great start to the season and the feeling of déjà vu, they have to be realistic in the fact the La Paillade will probably not finish in 2nd place come the end of the season, with bigger sides such as Lyon, Lille and possibly a resurgent Marseille looking to overtake them. However, a place in the Europa League is possible and should be achieved under Girard providing the team continue a similar vein of form throughout the season. Montpellier realistically won’t be competing for a Champions League place for a few years yet but if they can build and improve the squad year by year while keeping the old guard, there is no reason why they couldn’t be in the future. 11 years ago, Lille had just won promotion to Ligue 1 and now they are the reigning champions of France and they used a similar process to the one Montpellier are using now. Who knows but in the future, Montpellier can be the new Lille and be the next outfit to become a giant of French football.


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