Bordeaux are not known for their stability. Since appointing former France defender Willy Sagnol in 2014, the club has burned through 10 managers. Only two of them have lasted more than 42 games. Bordeaux have lurched from struggling in the bottom half to racing towards Europe before imploding again. Their cycle of boom and bust has finally proven unsustainable. Their goalless draw with Lorient on Saturday leaves them bottom of the Ligue 1 table, three points behind Metz, who occupy the relegation playoff spot. With just one game to play and with a far worse goal difference than Metz, Bordeaux are going down to Ligue 2.
Bordeaux have won 13 domestic trophies, including six league titles – most recently in 2009 – but their relegation has been coming. They had looked in danger of going down last season when they lost 4-1 to fellow strugglers Lorient in late April, but they rallied and won three of their last four games to stay up.
That sense of desperation returned in 2022. Bordeaux should have the quality in their squad to finish in mid-table – especially after they signed three seemingly players in January – but their performances have been shambolic. Repeated defensive capitulations – including a 6-1 loss at Lyon, a 5-0 defeat by Reims and a 6-0 thrashing from Rennes – have meant they have conceded 89 goals in 37 league games. They have by far the worst defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues. They did not keep a clean sheet this season until early April.
David Guion replaced former Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic in February and was meant to bring the team organization and stoicism. At Reims, his team had low-blocked their way into Europe in the shortened 2019-20 campaign, when they finished sixth with the best defensive record in Ligue 1. His effect at Bordeaux, however, has been minimal. Guion’s 0.62 points per game is worse than Petkovic’s 0.87 and his side have conceded 2.2 goals a game, only slightly better than the 2.5 they conceded under Petkovic. “We do not deserve to be in Ligue 1,” Guion said this weekend.
The team has missed Alberth Elis, whose recent injury has kept him out of the run-in. The powerful forward joined from Boavista last summer and scored nine goals in 14 games either side of Christmas, but he is one of their few decent transfers. Many of the 10 players they brought in last summer have proven woeful missteps.
Midfielder Fransérgio from Braga is competing to be the worst signing of the season. M’Baye Niang, who hit double figures for league goals in two consecutive seasons at Rennes, has looked uninterested, scoring just three goals in 22 appearances. Niang was removed from the squad this weekend after a training ground altercation with sporting director Admar Lopes. Meanwhile, a group of defensive additions, such as center-back Stian Gregersen from Molde, have looked out of their depth in Ligue 1.
Turmoil on the pitch has been accompanied by tumult off it. Former Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny and holding midfielder Otávio were removed from the squad in January and told they could leave without any warning. During a 2-0 defeat to Montpellier in March, veteran goalkeeper Benoit Costil clashed pitchside with the head of the Ultramarines, the club’s main supporters’ group, who later released a statement attacking Costil. A large group of fans tried to confront players after the game.
The Ultramarines, who were singing about relegation before full-time against Lorient, have an unusually close relationship with owner Gérard Lopez. Lopez has also been quick to criticize the team, saying in March that “it looks like the players’ brothers are playing” and that “it looks like our players are playing with an unpinned grenade as soon as they get the ball.”
Even without relegation, the club’s finances would be a concern. A report last week by French football’s financial watchdog, the DNCG, outlined a € 645m total loss for the league during the 2020-21 season. Bordeaux’s € 67m deficit was the fourth biggest. Koscielny’s banishment was partly due to worries over the wage bill. Meanwhile, players at the Belgian club Mouscron, which is also owned by Lopez, have complained about unpaid wages amid reports of impending bankruptcy.
Fan protests have also been common. The Lorient game this weekend was halted for several minutes after a barrage of pink toilet paper was thrown on to the pitch by fans carrying banners reading: “You are the shame of our 140 years of history” and “89 goals conceded, you are shit ! ” The club even ended a sponsorship deal with betting company Winamax earlier this year after the company made jokes about the team on Twitter.
Towards the end of the season, former Bordeaux midfielder Grégory Sertic claimed that the club’s staff had been banned from speaking to the playing squad, that youth players weren’t allowed to watch the seniors train, and that the “family club” he once knew was now “unrecognizable”. Assistant coach Jaroslav Plasil, another former player, was in tears on the bench last week after the dire 4-1 loss at Angers.
Amid managerial turmoil and constant criticism from all sides – Lopez was even heard screaming at the team in the dressing room following a defeat at Rennes – a toxic, fractious atmosphere, present for some time, has been amped up. It has all led to a feeling that there is something intrinsically wrong with the club’s management, ethos and attitude and that the team, abject displays aside, are also fighting against outside forces beyond their control.
True stability, which has not been seen at the club for a decade or more, will not return unless there is a complete overhaul of the playing staff, hierarchy and ideology. That stability will now have to be found on a minimal budget in the second division. With Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 soon reducing to 18 teams, returning to the top flight might be an even trickier task.
St-ientienne, who boast 10 league titles of their own, will go into the final day of the season in the other automatic relegation spot after they lost 2-1 at home to Reims and Metz beat Angers. After an initial revival under the passionate Pascal Dupraz, the new-manager bounce has worn off. St-ientienne have won just one of their last 10 matches. Dupraz has hope, however, given that St-ientienne and Metz are separated on goal difference, and Metz have to travel to PSG on the final day while Les Verts play Nantes. But Ligue 1 could very easily lose two of its biggest clubs in one season.
Ligue 1’s tight race for the European places contracted even further this weekend. Just seven points separate Monaco, whose astonishing form now has them second, and Lens in seventh. Defeat at Rennes pushed Marseille out of the automatic Champions League spot that had seemed all but theirs just a couple of weeks ago. Nice’s shock 3-1 home loss to Lille dropped them out of the European places as it stands, after being seen as outside title challengers in August. Lens and Strasbourg continue to punch above their weight and both could play in Europe next season – a potentially astonishing achievement. Lens’ meeting with Monaco and Strasbourg’s trip to Marseille make for thrilling final-day matches, with Lyon now out of contention after results in midweek.