Montpellier is run as a family club and with the larger-than-life Louis Nicollin's passing last year, his son Laurent is now the main man at La Paillade.
It was back in 1974, that Montpellier Herault Sport Club was founded by Louis Nicollin. When the charismatic "Loulou" passed away last year, it was only natural that his son and long-time deputy - both at the club and with the family business - Laurent Nicollin took charge.
"We’re the only club that’s been run by the same family for 40 years," Laurent told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN Sports. "It helps as we know all the players. I knew about the job of president already and it’s not new to me. I’ve been here 15, 16 years. I grew up here. The club was founded in '74, I was born in '73, so I grew up with the club. I haven’t changed the way I work and I’m still with the same people, we've kept that continuity and that same desire to help this club grow.'
Loulou: "Here in spirit"
The much-loved Loulou may be gone, but he certainly hasn’t been forgotten. Laurent said: "He’s here in spirit and he’ll always be here. I think probably the current team does represent the values of this club of combat and humility, values my father instilled 40-plus years ago. The club and my father are linked forever. But just because we have Louis Nicollin’s values doesn’t mean everything will be rosy. We have to fight relentlessly, show the spirit of La Paillade and keep moving forward."
A tough, ruthless businessman, Louis Nicollin was also a warm and generous human being. Hard work, fighting spirit and an earthy humility are now qualities ingrained in the football club.
"We’re from the south, from a region that isn’t wealthy, so our DNA is about fighting til the end, never giving an inch, but being humble too. We’re like a family – we look out for one another. We try to instill that in the youngsters at our academy. But you need players suited to playing that way, because if they don’t have that spirit you’re in trouble. You need battlers on the pitch and in the dugout."
Montpellier’s down-to-earth, family ethos famously overcame PSG and their glamour signings back in 2012, the southerners winning the league under the canny, no-nonsense management of René Girard. The sales of players like Olivier Giroud and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa helped Montpellier fund a new training ground, and after a difficult period the team is performing well again under Michel Der Zakarian, a coach with similar characteristics to Girard who has also instilled a tough edge and a fierce spirit.
"Michel is from the south, from Marseille, and played for us. He has that spirit, that desire, determination, love for the shirt, that respect. So, yes, I’d say René and Michel share similar values. In a family environment you need to show love, and they love their players, but they know when to give them a kick up the backside, too.
"They’re different to a lot of the coaches who are communicators… guys who are better at talking to the media than at actually coaching. They hide their weaknesses as coaches through their communication. I prefer a coach who communicates less but works hard and works his players hard."
Repeat the miracle?
Under Der Zakarian, Montpellier are on the right track. But could La Paillade ever repeat the miracle of 2012 and win the French title for a second time ?
"Maybe not in my lifetime, but you have to dream. I don’t think so but then I didn’t think we’d be champions before. It’s pointless trying to answer this because I haven’t a clue what’ll happen. We just want to stay in the top flight as long as possible. Then why not, you could have a great generation, a top coach, a president who is maybe more competent. We'll see. Our aim is to have a new stadium that will enable the club to move up another level in three or four years. I just hope that by then we won’t be too far behind the ten or so other clubs who already have new stadiums.
"I try to do the best I can, and surround myself by the best people possible so that the club can keep growing, because we have to keep growing. We've done that since winning league, we’ve worked well, had one tough season but now things are good. We keep fighting, we keep fighting."