“Here we are ! “, on May 15, 2021, the new management team of Clermont Foot, around Ahmet Schaefer, the young Swiss president (1) and his advisers Yannick Flavien and Jérôme Champagne, rejoiced. That evening, despite the defeat in Caen, the Clermontois, second in the Ligue 2 championship, validated their ticket for the elite. For the first time in its long history, this club, founded in 1984 – turned professional in 2002 – will tread the lawns of the largest enclosures in France.
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Few people bet on the rise of the eleventh budget of the second division, despite the undeniable consistency of Pascal Gastien’s players since taking office in 2017. Elected in 2020, by his peers, best coach of the championship, the architect of this spectacular team will not deviate this year from his playing principles: “above all the qualities of movement, the occupation of spaces and the sense of the collective ”, he enumerates.
Without great means (2), the Auvergne club overcomes obstacles with ingenuity, drawing inspiration from the example of the SCO d’Angers which, in the space of a few seasons, has established itself among the sure values of L1. In 2014, Claude Michy, Ahmet Schaefer’s predecessor, broke all the codes, by entrusting for the first time in the history of French football the reins of the first team to a woman, Corinne Deacon, now coach of the Blue. In this land of the oval, the leaders of Clermont Foot had the intelligence to get closer to their counterparts from the Rubgy club, a Top 14 giant, to share a state-of-the-art training center and pool their know-how and expertise.
Little remodeled, the team started its season in the best way
Usually, the promoted ones reinforce themselves in a consequent way before the start of the season. This is not the case for Clermont, who is approaching the championship with a stable framework. Supported by strong goalkeeper Arthur Desmas, Benin defender Cédric Houtoudji, experienced midfielders Jonathan Iglesias (32) and Johann Gastien (33) and flamboyant strikers Mohamed Bayo and Jim Allevinah can express their formidable efficiency.
“Our best recruitment has been to keep our best players ”, justifies the club president. Pascal Gastien draws the strength of his group from this stability. “Collectively, we are surely ahead of some teams ”, observes the 57-year-old coach. But no question for this disciple of Guy Latapie, the technician who “learned everything ” at the start of his playing career in Angoulême and Patrick Parizon, to ignite: “Despite our victory in Bordeaux (0-2), on the first day, we remain the Petit Poucet of L1. We must remain lucid, defeats, there will be, undoubtedly more than victories ”, he warns.
This is why he would still like to expand his group by the reinforcement of at least four players, preferably regulars of the elite. The two new recruits – Kosovar striker Milot Rashica and defender Arial Mendy – have already melted in the mold, hinting at great promises against Bordeaux. The young people will have a card to play this season, while other hopes (Saracevic, Türkmen) left to harden in the satellite club of Clermont Foot, FC Lustenau, current leader of the Austrian L2.
The development of the club passes, in the eyes of Ahmet Schaefer, through training and scouting : “We cannot deviate from this horizon. For that, we are obliged to seek young people – in the lower divisions or abroad – where the others do not go ”, continues the businessman, who has close links with renowned academies in Africa, such as the one headed by Jean-Marc Guillou in Mali.
A city ready to vibrate
At the start of this great adventure, Clermont players will be able to count on the support of the public at the Gabriel-Montpied stadium. In the city of Michelin, deprived until now of high-level football, football fans were impatient to see their team one day enter the big leagues.
With more than 8,700 cards sold at the start of the season, the subscription campaign has exceeded the club’s expectations. “This demonstrates the full potential ofClermont-Ferrand, a city which obviously lives for rugby, but which is also a football territory ”, according to Ahmet Schaefer.
The teams to follow
Behind PSG, the favorite of the French championship, Monaco will want to confirm the beautiful dynamic seen since the beginning of 2020. Very little diminished (departure of Maignan and Soumaré), Lille, the outgoing champion, will have his say, while Marseille , which animated the summer transfer window (arrivals of Guendouzi, De la Fuente, Cergiz or Gedson), Lyon, led by its new Dutch coach Peter Bosz and Rennes will be in the race for the podium.
The results of OGC Nice, under the impetus of its powerful shareholder Ineos, who succeeded in securing the services of Christophe Galtier, the former coach of Lille, will also inevitably be scrutinized. His attacking trio – the Dutch Kluivert and Stengs around Danish center-forward Dolberg – could be one of the sensations of the season. Recovering, Bordeaux and Nantes will seek to make up for their failed exercise in 2020-2021.