SM Caen may be 16th coming into their Week 21 clash with Olympique de Marseille, but relegation is unimaginable to the players, as ligue1.com found out…
In recent weeks, Normandy's famously chilling wind has been replaced by a cacophony of whistles.
"Yes of course it affects us," Caen midfielder Fayçal Fajr explained to the Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS. "I'd like to ignore it but I can't. I find it silly to boo your own team. We were winning against Toulouse [Caen beat Le Téfécé 2-1 in Week 18] and I still heard boos. I couldn't understand."
'Must rise above it'
"I don’t like it, it's counterproductive because it makes the players tenser," concurred manager Fabien Mercadal. "It's a vicious circle. I can understand it, though, because you buy a ticket hoping to see the team win. We need to rise above that."
Caen could do with their fans' support at the moment, as they face a testing start to 2019. After a 3-0 loss at home to LOSC, the relegation-threatened side close out the month with two more tough fixtures, against Marseille and then Montpellier Hérault SC.
"They're difficult games," said Mercadal. "Earlier this season we drew with Montpellier and lost the other two at Lille and Marseille. We're humble but we can't afford to lose. So, I'd say we need four points from these two games."
'I want six points!'
"I want six points," exclaimed Fajr. "That might make people laugh but that's my goal."
Before Montpellier, Caen first have Marseille to worry about on Sunday. OM have won each their last five visits to Stade Michel d'Ornano, with their last defeat there coming way back in 1997.
"The longer a run continues, the closer you get to the end of it," said Mercadal. "I've told the boys they have to believe."
Fabien Mercadal's (r.) Caen were beaten 2-0 by Marseille in October.
"It's even better when you play teams in the top five," said Caen centre-back Alexander Djiku. You don't need any extra motivation, we'll be up for it, the stadium will be full and the crowd will be behind us. We have everything we need to win the game."
Caen's optimism is admirable but their home record suggests Sunday will be a struggle, with just two wins in front of their own fans so far this term.
"Subconsciously we've taken our foot off the gas a bit," Djiku continued. "Our concentration has dropped at the end of games."
"At home you need to try to control the game," said Mercadal. "But to do that you need to have a good understanding in the team, and I'm not making excuses, it's a fact: we have an awful lot of new players. We're getting to know one another, and the team is starting to gel. Now we need to prove that by getting some good results."
And therein perhaps lies the real problem. 2018 was a year of great upheaval at Caen, with wholesale changes both on and off the pitch. Old heads like Rémy Vercoutre, Damien Da Silva and Julien Feret all left the club, and Patrice Garande - Caen’s coach since 2012 - was replaced by a Mercadal making his coaching bow in Ligue 1 Conforama.
Mercadal (r.) has overseen a big change in personnel at Caen.
"The squad's changed," said Fajr. "We've got a lot of young players and a lot of the older guys have left. We have a new coach with a backroom staff, and there's a new president as well."
"We aren't totally in our stride yet - you can see that on the pitch," said Djiku. "We'll only get that understanding with time."
"We're in a transition season," said Mercadal. "I don't like that term because it sounds like we're protecting ourselves. But I think everyone can see that it's true."
Mercadal has looked to rebuild with the aid of several experienced signings, including Prince Oniangué, Paul Baysse, Claudio Beauvue, and Fajr, the Moroccan playmaker who is back enjoying his second spell with the Normandy side.
Fayçal Fajr (l.) is approaching 100 appearances with Caen over two spells at the club.
"I can feel I have extra responsibility and that's something I want," explained the 30-year-old, who has featured 26 times for his country. "Whether it's me, Prince, or Paul Baysse, we can all bring something."
Mercadal's charges will need to fight for their lives in the coming months, but few teams have more experience in relegation dogfights than Caen, who sealed survival on the final day in each of the last two campaigns.
Ready for the fight
"We've got a lot of players used to scrapping at the bottom so that's good," said Djiku.
Mercadal remains confident, too.
"We'll stay up," he said. "I was just saying that with one of the directors. It'll go to the wire, as always, but we'll stay up. No one here will panic. We know we'll need to fight until the final day, and that's what we'll do."