SPIRO: Humility and respect

Ligue 1 Conforama > Spiro Blog

By M. Spiro

The success of Pablo Correa's grounded Nancy team is one of the inspirational stories of the French season so far, writes Ligue1.com's Matthew Spiro.

The French championship enjoys its fair share of glamour these days. With PSG continuing to attract international stars, and both Mario Balotelli and Radamel Falcao strutting their stuff on the Côte d'Azur, there is no shortage of glitz or talent. Yet it's a league that also remains refreshingly grounded. A friendly, family club like Guingamp - who come from a town of 7,000 inhabitants and currently sit fifth in the top flight - are a permanent reminder of this.

The Stade du Roudourou may be small but it becomes a veritable furnace on Saturday evenings. The fans are so close to the players in this traditional old ground, both metaphorically and literally, that there is a true communion. The few minutes that the players spend applauding the 'Kop Rouge' fans behind the goal at the final whistle is always special. At Angers, they go a step further: after a home win a designated player actually goes in to the stand with the supporters to lead the victory chant.


This week I witnessed something more heart-warming still. A grand total of FOUR (!) Nancy supporters made the trip to Nantes for Tuesday's Coupe de la Ligue quarter-final. Nantes (somewhat reluctantly) agreed to open the away stand for this courageous quartet that was making a 1500km round trip from one side of France to the other and back. At the final whistle, seemingly without thinking or being prompted, every single Nancy player walked towards the corner of the Stade de la Beaujoire to salute the four travelling fans, one of whom was carrying a white stick and so presumably blind.

The image on television was both hilarious and inspiring. Among the eleven Nancy players on the pitch, Alou Diarra, a former France captain and World Cup finalist, thought nothing of making this tiny extra effort. It appeared to be totally natural. And so it should. The fans, after all, are the soul and lifeblood of every football club. Without them, the players are nothing. And yet this simple gesture of gratitude is something that has been lost at many of Europe's big clubs. Not in Ligue 1 and certainly not at Nancy.


Before Christmas, I was lucky enough to spend some time at AS Nancy Lorraine's training ground. A more humble football club would be hard to find anywhere. Since the 1970s and the creation of France's first-ever youth academy in the heart of the Haye Forest - a school that famously honed Michel Platini's talents - Nancy has prided itself in bringing up footballers and, above all, people the right way. "Humility is a core value at this club and it's reflected in the region as a whole," club captain Youssouf Hadji - himself an alumnus of 'Centre de Formation Michel Platini' - told me.

The children I saw arrive for training in the morning were all impeccably polite. Walking past the giant photo of Platini plastered on the wall in the training ground entrance, each and every one stopped to shake my hand. The club's staff are all true Nancy people with many years experience at the club. They know all about this club's DNA. Not least the academy director Patrick Gabriel who - barring a four-year interlude - has been part of the furniture at Nancy since 1981. "We have a huge responsibility towards the parents because we have these children 24/7," Gabriel stressed. "Our primary job is to develop good human beings."

It should be said that they do also develop good footballers. Despite losing one of their recent gems, the highly gifted centre-back Clément Lenglet, to Sevilla earlier this month, Nancy prevailed 2-0 at Nantes this week with contributions from five home-grown players.  They have lost only one of their last ten games in all competitions and are now just 90 minutes away from the Parc OL showpiece.

Correa's bottom line

Nancy's Uruguayan manager Pablo Correa has already guided the club to a Coupe de la Ligue title, back in 2006. Now in his second spell, the former Nancy attacker is perfectly clear when asked about the secret to this modest club's success. "Humility and respect," he stated. "That's what we demand. Firstly, if you show that, then life becomes much nicer for everyone.

"You might say that's got nothing to do with football but it's something I believe in a lot," Correa continued. "I believe the results are attained here, at the training ground. People talk about the pitch, the stadium, the game and so on. But I'm totally convinced that the team's results - good or bad - depend entirely on what happens here." Nancy's players may not be the most talented in France, and they may not have the following of their PSG or Marseille counterparts. But they do have bags of respect and humility. We saw that on Tuesday night. It's enabling the club to flourish and it's refreshing to see.


>> CLUB PROFILE: AS Nancy-Lorraine

>> More by Matthew Spiro

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