Before Brest face a vital test against OGC Nice in the battle for Ligue 1’s European spots, veteran Hugo Magnetti speaks about manager Éric Roy’s impact on the Breton side’s meteoric rise this season.
Eric Roy has been manager of Stade Brestois for the last year, do you remember how it all started with him?
The adventure began at Avranches (in the Coupe de France, January 2023). He immediately put his ideas into place. And he always wanted the players to go along with him, not to get involved in something strict, whether we liked it or not. The team naturally followed him. I remember that he individually met us all one by one. He wanted to create a close relationship with the players, which was a little different from what we'd experienced before. With Michel Der Zakarian, I'd say that, in his management, there was a little less closeness and more rigour. Given our difficult position in the league table (17th in Ligue 1 Uber Eats), Éric Roy wanted to establish this relationship, knowing that we had a challenge to meet together.
And what was your first impression of him?
I immediately saw a coach who was very close to his players. I felt he listened to them and was not at all a coach who came in with fixed ideas. I think that made all the difference. Even though he hadn't coached for some time (since 2011/12 at OGC Nice), we knew about his past as a player, coach and consultant. We didn't have time to have any doubts about him because he immediately brought his positive energy.
Can you talk about his dressing room speeches?
He never overdoes it. They're still motivational, but they're in line with what he's been saying since he's been in charge of the team. This season, he's kept to the same recipe as last year because it worked well with the group. His approach remains the same.
What did he bring to the group of players?
Given the situation we were in when he arrived, the first thing he bought was a positive atmosphere. Despite the good interim with Grougi-Bourgis-Lachuer before him, we weren't winning much at the time... So his state of mind gave us a boost. He brought calm and serenity. He knew how to pull us along in his wake, making us adopt his ideas and his choices.
After a year at his side, what is Eric Roy's main idea with his team?
What he tells us a lot is that we have to be a team that's a pain to play against and hard to beat, and that to do that we have to be intense. He also gives us the idea of having an identity, of playing with our values, which for us means never giving up. We feel like part of a family. We all want to fight for each other. He has already worn several hats at his clubs in the past as a member of the sporting management team, so that has given him a different perspective from that of a coach.
What does that look like on the pitch?
This season, we're trying never to panic, even at times of weakness. There's this desire to show that we're strong and hard to break down.
And it seems to be working, Stade Brestois are progressing on the basis of a new-found confidence…
Yes, with the confidence generated by the results and the good position in the table, we are freer. Éric Roy has changed Stade Brestois. Because of what we're doing this season, I think we knew how to do it last year. But before that, we didn't want to take the risk of losing games by getting caught out. The priority was to make ourselves secure. Now we're doing that and enjoying ourselves at the same time. Our position in the standings has a lot to do with this philosophy. It changes things to play with less fear and more confidence.
‘As soon as we reach an objective, the coach takes us out to a restaurant!’
Last season, we didn't do it as much, because we just wanted to win everything to save ourselves... This season, we set ourselves targets over a period of 4-5 games. For example, we agree to aim to score 6 or 7 points in those games. And as soon as we reach a target, the coach takes us out to a restaurant together or we get extra days off. It's pretty cool! It all helps to create that family spirit.
And how good are the SB29 players at predicting the future?
At the moment, we're pretty good! We've achieved three of the four objectives we set ourselves. Before the break, we had set ourselves a target of 25 or 27 points... and we've taken 31.
Has the next target been decided?
The coach asked us today (Tuesday) to talk about it amongst ourselves. I think we'll take it easy during the week. We're going to be reasonable and do everything we can to keep this good period going.
‘Brest is a club I'm very attached to’
Personally, what have you gained from working with Eric Roy?
He's given me confidence. Even though Dall'Oglio and Der Zakarian gave me a start before him, he's the first person to have put his trust in me on a regular basis. I feel that more strongly. And as he knows this midfield position very well, he gives me advice, which helps. Finally, like me, he comes from the South of France, and what's more, he played for OM (Hugo was born in Marseille), so we have a lot in common. We talk and laugh about it.
In December, the coach gave you the captain's armband against Strasbourg. How did that make you feel?
I was really proud! Because Brest is a club to which I'm now very attached. And secondly, it was a sign of recognition from Eric Roy. I thank him for that by always giving my all on the pitch. It was a nice surprise because I found out at the time of the talk. I think I owe it to my seniority and the fact that I share the club's values. I was delighted.
Did you have any special instructions for the occasion?
He asked me to keep my usual personality. The same one that certainly led him to entrust me with the armband. So I had to do what I knew how to do. It was Marco (Bizot) who reminded me not to forget the pre-match protocol (laughs).‘Our objective is still to stay up.’
This season, Brest currently occupy the best position in their history (4th). This was certainly not expected after last season. How do you feel about it?
We weren't prepared for it, but we're keeping our feet on the ground. We're not overtaken by events, and that's what's enabled us to get consistent results. In the past, we've also had good spells, but then went through a slump... The difference this season is that consistency. And that excites us for the second half of the season, because we're hoping to do just as well. That would be great!
So what goals have you set yourselves as players?
Our objective remains the same. As long as we haven't achieved that, it will be to stay up. People think we're crazy to say that, but it's a reality. In football, things can go either way very quickly. And if we manage to stay up, then we can talk about higher ambitions. And there's no shortage of that in the dressing room...
Finally, 2023 ended on a high with Kamory Doumbia's four-goal haul against Lorient at Francis-Le Blé (4-0). Can you tell us what that was like from the inside?
It was his day! It was pretty crazy! It doesn't happen to many players in the course of their career. We were all happy for him. He's a very talented lad who's very easy to get on with, and a bit shy. He stayed quiet after the match, sitting in his place in the dressing room, receiving congratulations from everyone. That's Kamory! I don't think he realised it at the time. It was also a great gift for the fans to win the derby and take 4th place.