Written by Zach Wu
One may associate French football with the giants of Lyon, Marseille, Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain. Guingamp would never been mentioned in the same bracket. Some would not even know where the club hails from or even the existence of such a club.
For recent Ligue 1 enthusiasts, perhaps some would recognise it as a club finishing in the bottom half of the league. Older fans may even remember the Guy Lacombe days when young duo Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and veterans Nestor Fabbri, Christophe Le Roux and Stephane Carnot terrorised defences. Even older fans may even reminisce the Intertoto Cup days under Francis Smerecki. Fans come from the town of the same name of around 8000 inhabitants in Brittany, one of the smallest populations for a Ligue 1 club.
It has been in the shadow in many other supposedly bigger clubs in the region. Rennes, Lorient, Nantes have all been regarded as the bigger clubs in Brittany. Fans from the region would call a Rennes-Nantes match Derby de la Bretagne (Derby of Brittany) without mention of even of the supposed minnow Guingamp. This is how highly regarded this football club is.
Las Costarmoricains have taken a back seat in recent years but this could be the time to step into the limelight.
Guingamp was a yo-yo club especially during the 90’s and 00’s. There were the highs of getting promoted in 1995, winning the Intertoto Cup in 1996, a Coupe de France finalist in 1997, an excellent 7th place finish in 2002/2003 (just 3 points shy of a Champions league place) and a Coupe de France in 2009. There were many lows that came together too including relegation from Ligue 1 in 2004, spending many years in mediocrity before getting relegated again this time from Ligue 2 in 2010.
They had two relatively successful periods in the past two decades, under Francis Smerecki and Guy Lacombe. Under Smerecki, the club got promoted, reached a cup final and won the Intertoto Cup, their only piece of European silverware to date. Within 2 years they rose from 2nd division football to lifting a continental trophy.
Under Guy Lacombe, the club fortunes were revived after a few mediocre league finishes. The club also recruited smartly, signing 2 future Chelsea players in the form of Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba. Together with veterans Nestor Fabbri, Christophe Le Roux and Stephane Carnot, the club finished seventh, 3 points off a Champions League place and 6 points off the league title in one of the most competitive Ligue 1 seasons of recent times.
After these periods of relative success, their only other achievement of late before the arrival of Jocelyn Gourvennec was their Coupe de France title in 2009 when they were in Ligue 2 under Victor Zvunka when they beat a Rennes team managed by former boss Guy Lacombe.
The Gourvennec Era
Guingamp’s recent upturn in fortunes is often associated with one man-Jocelyn Gourvennec. Their fortunes have been intertwined ever since.
One of the most intelligent players of his generation, Gourvennec was a silky and intelligent playmaker, using his brain rather than brawl, being a key player in the Nantes side of 1995 which won Ligue 1. The highlights of his career include featuring in a UEFA Champions League semi-final in 1996 and a UEFA Cup final in 1999.
Even at such a young age, he showed a remarkable appreciation and understanding of the game, and was an eager learner. His coach at Nantes Jean-Claude Suaudeau, a legend of the French game, once said of Gourvennec “I had to have strong arguments to convince Jocelyn in every little tactical aspect, and that is why we spent a lot of time talking together. He wanted to understand everything.”
After retirement in 2006, he worked with the amateurs of La Roche Sur Yon for two years before jumping into the managerial role at Guingamp. He hit the ground running. The club has seen a meteoric rise since Gourvennec was appointed manager at the Stade de Roudourou in 2010. He took his side from the National (France’s third-tier) to Ligue 1 in just 4 seasons and even participated in the Europa League knockout stage in 2014-2015 by winning a Coupe de France in 2014 against bitter Breton rivals Rennes in the final.
He was even nominated to be the 2014-2015 manager of the season. He did this all while operating on a shoestring budget and having his best players leave every summer ever since they were promoted to Ligue 1. Giannelli Imbula left in 2013, Mustapha Yatabaré did the same in 2014 while Claudio Beauvue followed suit in 2015. Despite all this, he managed to prevent Guingamp from slipping into last ditch, win-at-all-costs relegation battles at the tail ends of his seasons. They were always away from the bottom 3 when it came to the final few games of the season. He secured Ligue 1 status at the end of all his Ligue 1 campaigns.
He has demonstrated the ability to distil the most he could from a group of limited players, beating opponents of superior quality countless times. That is a trait of a pragmatic but tactically astute coach.
He ended Paris Saint-Germain’s 17 game winning streak in 2014/2015 with a controlled, dogged defensive performance while slaying Monaco in the same season, winning by the same score line even when playing with 10 men for around 70 mins. Rapid counter attacks in both these matches proved to be the Achilles heel of the two visiting sides, with Guingamp’s offense hitting when it hurts most. Guingamp soaked up pressure in disciplined defensive blocks which frustrated opponents to no end.
He has been flexible with his tactics, always reacting to the opponent, subduing their strengths and exploiting their weaknesses. He has not been afraid of changing shape, sometimes starting in a 442 while at times using a single holder with a lone man upfront. He is not afraid to admit mistakes, at times changing his tactics entirely when he knows he has got it wrong. He also plays to the strengths of his most inform players at that time, building teams around them, be it the midfield powerhouse Gianneli Imbula in 2012/2013, a classic number 9 in the form of Mustapha Yatabaré in 2013/2014 or the pacey forward Claudio Beauvue during 2014/2015. This systematic, detailed organisation has indeed come to bear fruit.
His teams have also shown great hunger, drive and desire especially when it counted most. They always could show critics they could punch above their weight. In the group stages of the Europa League of 2014/2015 against all the odds, Guingamp secured a 1-2 away victory against PAOK, braving the hostile crowd in Thessaloniki to emerge from the group stage as the sole French team remaining, despite being put in one of the most difficult groups in the competition. Let us not forgot that derby victory in the Coupe de France too, when many predicted they would be walkovers.
They were the only team that reached the round of 32 stage, as the bigger French teams fell by the wayside. Lyon did not even reach the group stages while Lille and St Etienne failed to win a single game. Guingamp certainly outdid themselves.
In an interview with ESPN, Regis Delanoe of So Foot magazine once said, “Gourvennec’s Guingamp have absolutely no inferiority complex. The players believe that they are able to win, no matter who the opponents are. There is a clear message from the coach, who always chooses the strongest team, without favouritism. He gets the maximum out of every player, demands them to make sacrifices for the good of the team and gives them a lot of confidence.”
He certainly shown that he is a more than capable manager while also dragging Guingamp from out of their rut. Guingamp fans will be eternally grateful to him for the great service he has carried out while at the helm of this relatively small club
He has moved on this summer to Bordeaux where his talents have far exceeded the capabilities of this midtable Ligue 1 club. He has laid the foundations for the incoming manager to build upon and will be greatly missed by Guingamp fans. Au Revoir Monsieur.
What does the future bring?
I foresee stable and potentially exciting times ahead. The finances are in safe hands, under Bertrand Desplat, ever since 2011 who oversaw the club’s rise to Ligue 1. The recent recruits seem astute transfers. Experienced heads have come in the form of Etienne Didot and Lucas Deaux form a solid midfield duo and Kalle Johnsson a great replacement for the outgoing Jonas Lössl. Alexander Mendy also brings pace and strength to an attack that lacked continuity and reliability, with no one exceeding double figures ever since Claudio Beauve left. Returning players such as Ronnie Schwartz and Baïssama Sankoh could become useful squad players too. These transfers are the latest at the time of writing.
Promising youngsters could reach greater heights too. Ludovic Blas and Marcus Coco, having showed flashes of brilliance in 15/16 could become regulars in the first team. Other payers such as Dorian Lévêque, Nicolas Benezet, Yannis Salibur, Laurent Dos Santos and Nill de Pauw can bring more consistency to their game and up their game to the next level. With their improvements, Guingamp can possibly be competing for a European spot for years to come.
The old guard have to be phased out in stages too. Ever since their promotion, Guingamp have been reliant on a set of more senior players which have served them well. However, with them ageing new players have to be phased in. Thibault Giresse, Reynald Lemaître and Jérémy Sorbon have served the club well but it perhaps is a good idea to move them on.
The coach is also a shrewd signing itself and perhaps the most important. At small clubs where safety is not always generated, a seasoned coach is needed to steady the ship and deliver results during do or die time so as to preserve the club’s financial future and allow it to progress to the next level, perhaps European football.
Step in, Antoine Kombouaré, a manager tipped for the top level but has been unfortunate in his recent appointments. After establishing Valenciennes as a midtable club playing an exciting brand of football, he was sacked in December 2011 at Paris Saint-Germain when he was top of the league while the club finished second that season. You cannot blame him for a 20th placed finish with Lens, crippled financially and had prepared for the Ligue 1 season by signing no players in the summer. Given this chance, this manager once tipped for a position in the managerial elite will finish midtable or even higher up.
There are so many positives things Las Costarmoricains fans can look forward to. An exciting coach who is extremely seasoned with the league, stable finances and a playing squad bolstered with a good mix of veterans and younger players who have the potential to be far better than the present. Things are looking up for this (former) minnow. I hope to see it rise to become the biggest club in Brittany or even perhaps the biggest club in France. Bonne chance à Guingamp!
Have you heard of Guingamp? Let us know in the comments below!