This article also featured on Guardian Sport.
Crisis has become a part of day-to-day life at Bordeaux. Fan unrest, player indiscipline and the threat of relegation have become endemic across recent seasons. When Gus Poyet arrived at his press conference on Thursday evening, implosion was again imminent.
“What happened with Gaëtan Laborde is a disgrace,” raged Poyet, “I asked the club not to sell him until we bring in another player. They didn’t listen to me, they let Laborde leave. We arrived at the hotel today at 11.45am, Laborde was not there. We called him, he was at Montpellier. Nobody said anything to us. I will discuss with my agent tomorrow and then make a decision.”
Laborde, who scored twice in the 3-1 Europa League qualifier first-leg win, was expected to feature in the return against the Ukrainian side Mariupol that night despite his immediate employment having been debated for some weeks. When a journalist pointed this out, Poyet insisted otherwise. “Who said that to you? A Bordeaux representative? I don’t give a fuck about these Bordeaux representatives. They tell you lies and you don’t have the cojones to say the truth.”
After then accusing the club hierarchy of “trying to kill me from behind to make me leave”, Poyet was dismissed the following morning, his comments having “exceeded the limits” according to the club president, Stéphane Martin. Initially, the Bordeaux squad refused to train on Friday, a sign of the support that Poyet’s intense leadership has managed to generate. “They are disturbed,” Martin admitted to L’Équipe, who were even contacted by one player on his arrival at the training ground to ask why they were “attacking” Poyet.
The Uruguayan’s anger over Bordeaux’s uninspiring transfer business and his increasingly frayed relationship with Martin is nothing new. In his first pre-season press conference, Poyet had threatened to leave over what he saw as broken promises and uncertainty amid a proposed takeover. “I am not happy, I was expecting something else,” he explained.
Poyet directly blamed Nicolas de Tavernost, CEO of M6, the TV channel that has owned Bordeaux since 1998, for their transfer tardiness, even deploying the central midfielder Younousse Sankharé as a striker for their first Europa League qualifier in protest, to which De Tavernost angrily responded: “We can’t let this sort of thing become a regular occurrence. If he hasn’t got my number then Stéphane Martin can give it to him.” At the start of August, Bordeaux and Tottenham were the only clubs in Europe’s top five leagues not to have signed any players. L’Équipe, however, reported that Poyet was also to blame. The club’s scouts had supposedly supplied a 30-man list of recommendations at the start of summer but Poyet rejected them all.
Poyet’s cantankerous managerial career and acrimonious exits from Brightonand AEK Athens were warnings. Nevertheless, Bordeaux seemed to have emerged under Poyet’s charge from their perpetual crisis, having rocketed from relegation trouble to a miraculous sixth and Europa League qualification under him last season.
Poyet succeeded where his predecessor, Jocelyn Gourvennec, had not in uniting and motivating a fractious squad. The Brazilian contingent led by Malcom – who is now at Barcelona – were criticised for posting Instagram videos of them laughing and joking outside the Stade Matmut Atlantique after a last December; “lacking of maturity, solidarity and respect” according to the club. Gourvannec’s dismissal, not long after an embarrassing Coupe de France loss to semi-pro Granville and a disastrous Europa League qualifying exit to Videoton in the summer, even led club captain Jérémy Toulalan to ask to be released in support of his coach.
Despite Les Girondins’ latest setback, a 2-1 loss at likely relegation battlers Toulouse this Sunday, hope of stability may soon arrive. Rumours that M6 is looking to sell up have persisted for some time and the American consortium GACP is now close to a €100m deal. The sum is twice what Frank McCourt paid for Marseille, a sign of Ligue 1’s burgeoning marketability. An extra €80m on signings over the next three years has been mooted, the reported €17m club-record fee for Fluminense forward Pedro agreed this weekend seemingly being the start.
However, while De Tavernost has insisted he will not “just give the keys to the club to people who won’t at least commit the minimum”, the promise of investment is caveated by legitimate fan scepticism. Much of the club’s existing staff would be in jeopardy as GACP look to implement its own hierarchy, the sporting director and former Bordeaux cult hero goalkeeper Ulrich Ramé is already being marginalised, while the prospect of increased TV rights money in 2020 brings the spectre of opportunism and perhaps, so fans speculate, a relatively speedy resale.
Whatever GACP’s plan, it remain ambitious. Thierry Henry has reportedly been contacted about succeeding Poyet while Jürgen Klinsmann, Laurent Blanc and Michael Laudrup have also been shortlisted. Whoever is appointed, those connected with the club simply want to escape perpetual crisis – they can remember little else.
by Adam White