Eighteen years later, Saint-Étienne is preparing to return to Ligue 2. After a nightmarish end to last season, punctuated by sporting disappointments and behind closed doors, the reconstruction project promises to be colossal for this legendary club with ten titles of champions of France. But what should we expect? State of play before the first game of the season.
May 29, 2022, 9:50 p.m. ASSE is on the edge of the abyss. In a decisive penalty shootout in the second leg of the play-offs, the Auxerrois Birama Touré has at the end of the foot the penalty synonymous with rising to the elite. The Malian international does not tremble and sends the Greens to hell. A few seconds after this victorious shot, the Cauldron ignites. The ground is invaded by thousands of Saint-Etienne supporters, green with rage. Firecrackers, smoke bombs, tear gas bombs, hell is here. Result of this sad evening: about thirty minor injuries. A lunar situation which made Roland Romeyer, co-shareholder of the club, fear the worst: “I was really afraid that irresponsible behavior would lead to death and that Geoffroy-Guichard’s lawn would be stained with blood forever.»
It is on this blaze that Saint-Étienne had to compose to raise his head this summer. Spared by the DNCG, unlike their Girondin counterparts, the Greens were able to take advantage of a small lull. “We experienced, a month ago to the day, a real explosion. Now we can’t wait to move on to a new season. During the past month, we have not remained inactive. From Ligue 1 to Ligue 2, it was necessary to go from a budget of 70 to 30 million“, assured Jean-François Soucasse, the executive president, at a press conference. But the subject of the sale of the club remains on everyone’s lips. While the management, made up of the Romeyer-Caïazzo-Soucasse triumvirate, remains attached to the Forézien club like a mussel to its rock, the exasperation of the supporters turns into resignation. The Saint-Etienne board would be too greedy in business. Last figure put forward: 20 million euros. Since the failure of negotiations with businessman David Blitzer, no serious offer has arrived on the table while the proposed sale has dragged on for nearly four years.
Coming to Ligue 2, I almost only saw him in Saint-Étienne.Laurent Battles
“Papy” makes his revolution
If from the point of view of the leaders nothing seems to change, at the level of the athlete, great changes have taken place. After thanking Pascal Dupraz following the failure of his rescue mission, the Saint-Etienne leaders formalized the arrival of Laurent Batlles on June 29. The native of Nantes has all the right profile. After finishing his career in the jersey of ASSE at 36 years old, “Papy” begins his career change. Assistant coach of the club’s National U15s before taking charge of the reserve, he continued his linear progression by becoming assistant to Christophe Galtier. The sequel is better known, after taking the reins of ESTAC, he managed in two seasons to raise Troyes by winning the Ligue 2 championship. After his adventure in Aube, which ended in December 2019 d By mutual agreement, the logical next step for the young technician would have been to find a club playing in the elite of French football, but the temptation to train a historic club was too great: “Coming to Ligue 2, I almost only saw him in Saint-Étienne. It’s not a lack of humility, but I experienced things during my time at Troyes, I wanted to grow and try to train an L1 team over the long term, but when I was offered this project , it seemed to me interesting to raise it.»
The descent into Ligue 2 prompted many executives to jump ship. Hamouma, Khazri, Kolodziejczak, Boudebouz have given way to players cut out for the L2 like Briançon, Giraudon, Lobry or even Cafaro and to the best young people from the training center that the staff wishes to integrate into the group. Coherent recruitment, coordinated by Loïc Perrin, given the club’s weak field of action on the transfer market. As for the tactical plan, Laurent Batlles announced it, he wants to permanently install a system with three axial defenders. The only downside is the absence of a reliable centre-forward on the eve of this new season. The names of Grbić and Tardieu have been circulating in recent days, but nothing is official. Announced on the departure for several weeks, Denis Bouanga would be close to flying to MLS to join Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini at Los Angeles FC. A thorn in the side of Saint-Etienne when we know that the teams which have managed to extricate themselves from Ligue 2 to join the elite over the past three seasons have scored an average of 55 goals (the lowest total being Lens in 2019-2020 and Ajaccio last season with 39 goals scored).
Keep your feet on the ground
But what is really the objective of the Greens for this season? The famous “We play the maintenance” of Guy Roux would not work here. If many supporters dream of an immediate comeback, Laurent Batlles wishes, for the moment, to keep his feet on the ground:There is a two-year project. After that we are competitors, the ambition is to try to be as high as possible but I worked in Troyes trying to pass levels. Every 10 days I will make an assessment and according to this assessment at the 30e day, we’ll see where we stand.»
After taking a breath of fresh air during the preparation camp at La Plagne and having chained five friendly matches (2 wins, 2 draws, 1 defeat), the Stéphanois are preparing to start the season with already some handicaps. Following the serious incidents that occurred during the return match against Auxerre, the Professional Football League (LFP) inflicted on ASSE six penalty points (including three suspended) and six games behind closed doors (including two suspended). To further complicate ASSE’s task, the 2022-2023 financial year is marked by the elimination of play-offs and play-offs. As a result, only the first two in Ligue 2 will find the elite. The first stage of this revival will be written this Saturday against Dijon. Deprived of Chaudron until October, Saint-Etienne supporters will be present by the thousands in the spans of Gaston-Gérard. A perfect opportunity to reconnect with victory, which has eluded them since April in the league, and rekindle the flame.
By Thomas Morlec