ligue 1 review: jitters season begins as lyon and nantes wield the axe

Written By: Abidoye Babatunde

Jitters season is here and it is contagious. Within just two days, Pierre Aristouy and Fabio Grosso found themselves out of a job. FC Nantes’ and Olympique Lyonnais’ relative success increases the risk of the jitters spreading further.

Aristouy looked to have righted the ship at Nantes. The inexperienced manager led Les Canaris to safety after replacing Antoine Kombouaré back in May. That feat earned him the chance to remain in the hot seat at the beginning of the season, but after two defeats in the first two games of the Ligue 1 season, his spell in charge looked like being a short one.

Yet Aristouy showed resolve. He righted the ship and by the time of his dismissal, he had Nantes sitting in 11th place, albeit on a run of four games without a victory.

However, that was enough for the ruthless president Waldemar Kita to wield the axe. “We have felt for a while that we were taking a bad turn. We thought that the future of the club could be in peril. After last year, we wanted to act rather than react,” Kita told the media following the appointment of Jocelyn Gourvennec as his replacement. Nantes only avoided relegation on the last day of last season and Kita clearly views ruthlessness as a means to avoiding a similar fate this time around.


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Hierarchies look to avoid repeating mistakes

Kita isn’t the only one to have gotten the jitters. John Textor has them too, and like Kita, it is a story of wanting to avoid the same mistakes. By his own admission, Textor should have sacked Laurent Blanc as Lyon manager back in the summer. “The work wasn’t there in the pre-season. I made a mistake. I should have made a decision in the summer. I should have made a decision after our Belgian team Molenbeek, which was half-constructed, ended up beating us in the pre-season. That should have never happened,” said the American in October.

For Textor, the sacking of Grosso on Friday was about not repeating that indecision. Lyon are in a perilous position, and having dismissed talk of relegation as a “joke” and “good fodder for conversation”, the threat is now very real with Lyon glued to the bottom of the Ligue 1 table and five points adrift of the relegation play-off spot, currently occupied by FC Lorient.

Instant validation

The sacking of Aristouy in particular looked rash. However, it is a decision that is already paying dividends. Gourvennec, in his first game in charge, managed to do what no other manager has succeeded in doing all season – beating OGC Nice. The three points lift Les Canaris to 8th place, just five points off the European places, but also only six points away from the relegation play-off spot.

Whilst Lyon couldn’t repeat Nantes’ feat in securing a victory under their new manager, Pierre Sage, there were positive signs. Les Gones’ performance against RC Lens was arguably their best this season, and they would have taken at least a share of the points if not for individual errors.

A sacking epidemic?

Sage, hired only on an interim basis, at least for now, has succeeded where his predecessors failed. The Frenchman has brought a feel-good factor to the club, relatively speaking, and has convinced and coerced the Lyon fans with his discourse, but also the style of play. Reports from L’Équipe suggest that in his very short period at the helm, he is also convincing the club’s executives, who are considering extending his interim period.

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The relative success of the two clubs under their new managers could facilitate the spread of the jitters. With Ligue 1 so tight this season, with only six points separating 8th to 16th, many clubs could hypothetically be considered in the relegation battle. Presidents of other clubs on bad runs, such as Lorient, Toulouse FC or Clermont Foot could realistically mimic their counterparts and roll the dice out of fear of the dreaded drop. Rationality doesn’t necessarily reign in sacking season; it is an impulsive period and a dangerous one for managers. Only time will tell whether Nantes and Lyon were right to chop and change when they did and whether the clubs around them have missed a step in not doing the same.

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