Stade Rennais FC are a club with a history of forging world-class talent.
Before the latest gem Eduardo Camavinga, the likes of Sylvain Wiltord, Yoann Gourcuff, Yann M’Vila, Tiémoué Bakayoko and Mikaël Silvestre all came through the ranks in western France.
“Nurturing talent has always been in the club’s DNA. There is a rich history of players who have come through the academy before becoming Ligue 1 regulars and internationals,” Silvestre told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN Sports.
The most recent example of such success is Ousmane Dembélé. The World Cup winner needed just one season in Ligue 1 to catch the eye of Europe’s biggest clubs.
At Rennes, Dembélé learned his trade under the guidance of the man who is now in charge of the first team, Julien Stéphan. The 39-year-old’s rise from academy coach to the Roazhon Park dugout is symbolic of the Brittany club’s methods.
“When I started coaching, my objective was not to end up with the first team,” he said. “I wanted to help the young lads come through. I wanted to pass on knowledge. Transmission is something that I was very interested in. My goals have changed since joining Rennes, I was in the charge of the reserve team where results are the priority, and I got caught up in the adrenaline of the competition, and reaching set targets.”
In just over a year as head coach, Stéphan has already made his mark. He won the club’s first major trophy in 48 years and now has the team fighting for UEFA Champions League qualification. For Silvestre, his appointment is perfectly in keeping with the Rennes way.
“Having Julien in charge of the first team makes it even easier for young players to make the step up. That doesn’t mean they have it easy, far from it, but a bridge has been built, facilitating their integration,” added Silvestre. “My past in the academy means I keep special tabs on their progression. It’s a handy marriage because it’s exactly what the club wants, so things are going well!”
Stéphan added: “We have to keep turning to the academy, keep nurturing young talent, help them reach a level of maturity allowing the best of them to move on to the top clubs and to keep others around, ensuring this tradition stays alive and well!”
Of the 27 players in the current Rennes squad, 10 are products of the club’s academy. The experience of Jérémy Morel and Damien Da Silva is therefore vital in keeping the team afloat.
“We simply wouldn’t work with only young players but they do bring plenty of energy to the party,” Stéphan added.
That sort of energy came up trumps in late October when 19-year-old academy graduate Yann Gboho replaced Jordan Siebatcheu in the 91st minute of a home game against Toulouse FC, with the score at 2-2. Gboho went on to score the winner.
“At this point in time, I feel very comfortable sending Yann on for a short short time knowing he’s going to dynamite the game,” said Stéphan. “He’s a lad who spent the whole of pre-season with us, and I know his qualities well. I worked with him in the reserve team last year.”
“Scoring a first goal is a big moment for a young player, it’s an important moment, but it doesn’t mean they are immediately confirmed as Ligue 1 players. There is still plenty of work. The road ahead can be rocky but they know that with work they will get opportunities. That was the case for Yann, and of course for Eduardo (Camavinga), who burst onto the scene at the beginning of the season.”
Camavinga really came to the attention of the wider world in a win against Paris Saint-Germain. Still just 16 at the time, he was named man of the match against the champions, before going to school the following morning.
“Eduardo’s case is a particular one because he is still at school,” Stéphan said. “He’s studying for his baccalaureate this year. He’s playing a lot, more than what we had imagined at
the start of the season, far more, if I am being totally honest. We had a few injuries, and then he became so important in midfield that it’s now difficult to play without him.”
Camavinga’s exploits this term have alerted the very biggest European clubs, and no player under the age of 18 has played more minutes across Europe’s top five leagues.
“We have to protect him from media exposure and all the interview requests. That doesn’t mean hiding him because you can’t hide a player, but we have to allow him the time he needs to grow. A lad of 17 still has a lot to learn, both on the pitch and off it,” said Stéphan.
“A first season is never easy, but it’s not what is most difficult either. Following it up is much tougher. That’s the reason why I think it would do him the world of good to stay another season with us.”