Bordeaux: from Champions League to the French third tier in 12 years | Bordeaux

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Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose cannot find a way through. With the game now past the 90-minute mark, Bayern Munich still find themselves trailing 1-0 to Bordeaux and staring down the barrel of a second defeat in as many weeks to the Ligue 1 champions, this time at the Allianz Arena.

The latest Bayern effort veers awry and the ball is hoofed back up the pitch. Anywhere will do for Laurent Blanc’s men. Hans-Jörg Butt hurtles out to meet it, but Marouane Chamakh latches on to the ball first. Bordeaux’s top scorer rounds the goalkeeper with a deft touch before slotting into an empty net to double his side’s lead after Yoann Gourcuff’s first-half opener. Bordeaux are now well clear at the top of their Champions League group and have avenged their defeat to Bayern in the 1996 Uefa Cup final.

Things were going well for Bordeaux at the end of 2009. They had topped their Champions League group, adding a win against Juventus to their double over Bayern. The team, which boasted Gourcuff, Chamakh and Argentinian striker Fernando Cavenaghi among many others, was well on its way to retaining the French title. What followed over the next five months was a crippling collapse. They fell to sixth place in the league – missing out on Europe as a whole – and lost to Marseille in the Coupe de la Ligue final, which led to a summer exodus of their stars and manager.

As sour as that spring was, though, it pales in comparison to the downward spiral Bordeaux have been on in the decade since. Bordeaux are now on the precipice of bankruptcy. Earlier this month, the DNCG – French football’s financial regulator – ruled that the club would not have the means to see out next season. Accordingly, they demoted Bordeaux to French football’s third tier, pending an appeal hearing next week.

To reach this point, Bordeaux have strung together a litany of calamitous seasons, each worse than the last, taking ownership bedlam, managerial shifts and all-round incompetence at every level. In the early years of their slide, there were brief moments of respite. Admirable upper mid-table finishes under coach Francis Gillot kept the ship afloat during a period of transfer window austerity. Undoubtedly, the peak came in 2013 when they won the Coupe de France final against Evian – who, in a classic case of nominative determinism, were liquidated a few years later.

These years marked the start of Bordeaux’s role as Ligue 1’s comic relief. On a cold October night of 2013, Serge the Llama was abducted from a circus and led around the city by a group of drunk students, becoming an internet sensation. The club decided to capitalize on the animal’s popularity at their next home game, parading him around the pitch before losing 3-0 to Nantes. Another dubious highlight was when midfielder André Poko was fined and then pushed out of the club after taking a selfie while smoking shisha while wearing the shirt of arch-rivals Marseille.

Proceedings took a piercingly sharp turn for the worse during the 2017-18 season, a rollercoaster of a campaign. A cataclysmic set of results in the autumn led to manager Jocelyn Gourvennec being sacked at the turn of the year. Club captain Jérémy Toulalan terminated his contract out of protest. Faced with an unstable situation, Bordeaux decided to fan the flames of chaos by hiring Gus Poyet. The Uruguayan’s passionate man-management seemed to work, despite the threadbare squad at his disposal. He guided the club back into Europe on the back of a spectacular second half of the season.

Behind the scenes, though, a change in ownership was afoot. Long-time owners M6 wanted to pass on stewardship of the club, which had not been running at a profit for several years, to a safe pair of hands. Negotiations with American investment fund GACP were confirmed, but a sale only materialized in November 2018, 14 months after first contact was made.

The standstill affected the club’s transfer dealings, as no signings were made until well into August, after the £ 36.5m sale of Brazilian winger Malcom. Famously, the forward was officially announced as a Roma player and was flying to Italy when Barcelona’s 11th-hour bid was accepted, much to Giallorossi’s dismay. More players departed. Homegrown forward Gaёtan Laborde was sold to Montpellier despite Poyet specifically telling the board not to let him leave, prompting a volcanic press conference after a Europa League qualifier, as Poyet called the club a “disgrace” and claimed they did not have the “cojones”To tell him the truth.

After Poyet’s sacking was confirmed the next morning, the club courted Thierry Henry for the manager’s job, before finally opting to bring back Ricardo, who had previously been in charge in the mid-2000s. When it emerged that the Brazilian did not have the required coaching license, physio Eric Bedouet stepped up (again) in an interim position that lasted until Paulo Sousa’s arrival in 2019.

Sousa oversaw a 12th-place finish in the 2019-20 season, which was cut short by the pandemic, before Jean-Louis Gasset – Blanc’s former assistant – took the reins. In the meantime, GACP and president Joe daGrosa were pushed out as their associates and majority shareholders King Street bought out their minority stake. On his arrival in 2018, the confident DaGrosa had set the target of returning to the Champions League within three years. His plan has not materialized.

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Bordeaux fans enjoy their run to the Champions League quarter-finals in 2010.
Bordeaux fans enjoy their run to the Champions League quarter-finals in 2010. Photograph: Nicolas Tucat / AFP / Getty Images

In the 2020-21 season, French football was battered by the financial impact of the pandemic, the early finish of the previous season and the collapse of their broadcasting rights deal. Bordeaux’s already precarious situation was compounded towards the end of the campaign when, having staved off relegation, the owners indicated they would no longer be investing into the club.

The atmosphere, which was already strained amid fan protests against club president Frédéric Longuépée, took a nosedive. The ensuing turmoil saw the club temporarily demoted to Ligue 2, while a host of takeover bids emerged. The winner was Gérard Lopez, a Spanish-Luxembourgish businessman who had just left Lille unceremoniously amid hefty debts. Lopez, a Tory party donor and associate of Vladimir Putin, is currently facing charges of forgery in Luxembourg, allegations which he denies.

This season has, impressively, managed to outdo all of the others for sheer mayhem. Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic was brought in for what turned out to be six months, while the squad was revamped with eight panic buys. On the pitch, Bordeaux finished last in Ligue 1, conceding a comical 91 goals in the process, the only highlight being a 10-0 Coupe de France win over a team from the overseas island territory of Mayotte.

The club dumped its shirt sponsor, an online betting company, for making jokes at their expense on social media. A rift between the Lopez-backed ultras and Benoît Costil exploded during a loss to nine-man Montpellier, as the goalkeeper argued with the leader of the fan group, who later accused the player of racism. The club’s decision to dump experienced players such as Costil and Laurent Koscielny did nothing to help their sorry predicament. Getting rid of Koscielny has been especially difficult given the pharaonic contract that lured him to the club from Arsenal. Instead of selling him or terminating his contract, the club has given him an ambassadorial role to see out his five-year deal.

Talks are ongoing between Lopez and creditors about the club’s debts. The € 10m brought to the table by Lopez’s company Jogo Bonito, the sale of a stake in Ligue 1’s broadcasting rights and relegation parachute payments should go a long way to alleviating the issue – but the DNCG want the deficit to be shored up immediately. Bordeaux have a week to cobble together € 40m, or at least present a credible roadmap for how they can gather that sum. Lopez is desperate to avoid the third tier, saying: “With its infrastructure and costs, this club cannot survive in National 1.” There are essentially two possible outcomes: either the club stays in Ligue 2 or it ceases to exist.

French football is no stranger to a fallen giant, but to see Bordeaux – the six-time champions of France who were once home to Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Zinedine Zidane – wither away into irrelevance would be the biggest blow yet. As an increasing number of clubs are sold in the midst of Ligue 1’s financial recovery, Bordeaux’s case shows how fragile French football’s established order can be despite this emerging gold rush, as well as the damage that selling to the wrong bidder can inflict.

Bayern Munich, meanwhile, have just won their 10th straight Bundesliga title.

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