Saint-Etienne may just have missed out on European qualification but Jean-Louis Gasset still gets ligue1.com writer David Crossan's vote as the most influential Ligue 1 Conforama coach of the year.
While acknowledging Unai Emery's domestic quadruple, Christophe Pelissier's Amiens miracle, and the contributions of Sabri Lamouchi and Gus Poyet in securing European football for Rennes and Bordeaux, it is Gasset who I think deserves the greatest plaudits. Saint-Etienne were heading for relegation before the 64-year-old was appointed just minutes before Les Verts' game at Guingamp on December 20, taking over with ASSE 16th and just two points clear of the bottom three.
Gasset had been brought in to assist former ASSE midfielder Julien Sablé in his first top job after Oscar Garcia's short-lived spell. Sablé lost four and drew two of his games at the helm and ASSE were a club riven by schisms as Gasset revealed in a wide-ranging interview with L'Equipe newspaper in April.
"The players were traumatised"
Gasset revealed: "The players were traumatised, as if they were ashamed having been thrashed in the derby by Lyon at the start of November. There were clans, people were seen as so and so's man or so and so's. When they asked me to step up to become the number one I imposed two conditions. The first was that Ghislain Printant came on board and the second was that we would recruit four or five top-level players. They accepted."
Printant and Gasset had saved Montpellier from relegation in 2016-2017 and now they set about improving things at Saint-Etienne, a process which really took off thanks to a remarkably successful winter transfer window as Gasset used all of his persuasive powers to bring in the experience and quality of Neven Subotic, Mathieu Debuchy, Yann Mvila and Paul-Georges Ntep, while Robert Beric was recalled from an unsuccessful loan spell at Anderlecht.
Winter transfer window success
Gasset explained his thinking: "I wanted to sign experienced players; players who are calm and who would get the existing key players back to their best. I wanted to bring in defenders, reconstruct the foundations and have players who wanted the ball. We needed to do more than just fight, because that's not the Saint-Etienne way."
Debuchy sparkled and was unfortunate to miss out on a France World Cup place, Mvila showed something of the form that made him a key player for France through to UEFA Euro 2012, when Gasset was assistant to Laurent Blanc, Beric scored goals and Subotic recalled his best Borussia Dortmund days. Only Ntep of the winter recruits disappointed, while the likes of Rémy Cabella flourished as the confidence returned and ASSE took 35 points from 19 games in 2018. Only back-to-back losses to Bordeaux in Week 36 and Monaco in Week 37 - following 13 games unbeaten - meant no European football as the club were pipped to the final European spot by Bordeaux.
ASSE signed off by crushing LOSC 5-0 and succeeded in Gasset's aim of putting the smiles back on the faces of the supporters. Gasset's facial expression never changes much but post-match you could sense his pride as he hugged his players and soaked up the acclaim of the crowd. With Saint-Etienne poised for a summer takeover, it is not certain whether Gasset will still be on the bench come the start of the 2018-2019 campaign. Were he to leave it would be a real shame as he still has so much to give. The fans know that and brandished a banner that read: "Gasset-Printant, you've saved the furniture… No house move!"
Post-match Gasset commented: "There were banners and emotion. Along with Ghislain, we came for that and we finished things off well. The mission has been fulfilled, even if we dreamt of Europe like other people. We took 35 points in the second half of the season and it was a formidable human adventure with the players even if only lasted six months… for now."