Julien Stephan, Reims, Strasbourg

One to watch: Julien Stéphan, Strasbourg's mastermind

One to watch: Julien Stéphan, Strasbourg's mastermind

Publish on 05/04 at 16:24


RC Strasbourg Alsace just held champions Paris Saint-Germain to a 3-3 draw and have European qualification in their sights. How has Julien Stéphan made them into a Europe-chasing force?

Strasbourg have a rich history, crowned Ligue 1 Uber Eats champions back in 1979 with a certain Arsène Wenger on their books. They may have added a Coupe de la Ligue in 2019 but few would have imagined their lofty league position at the business end of this season.


Le Racing sit sixth, three points off OGC Nice who occupy the fifth and final European position, with three games left to play - against Stade Brestois 29, Clermont Foot 63 and then Olympique de Marseille on the final day - and Stéphan is the brains behind their recent rise.


Back story:


Born in Rennes, when father Guy Stéphan - now Didier Deschamps' assistant manager for France - was playing a single season in the Rouge et Noir attack, Julien and his younger brother Gullaume soon followed his path into the game, starting out in PSG's reserve team ranks.


Neither made much of a dent as players, and after bouncing around the lower leagues of French football, Julien decided to undertake his coaching education full-time in 2008 and was handed control of Rennes' under-19s in 2012. He led the reserves to promotion in 2016 and was the natural choice to succeed Sabri Lamouchi in the Roazhon Park dugout in December 2018, initially on an interim basis.


Stéphan was soon given the job full-time after steering Rennes to their first ever European knock-out stage with victory over Kazakh side FC Astana in the UEFA Europa League. He then led the Bretons to their first trophy in 48 years, beating PSG in the Coupe de France final, and he had the side third when the 2019/20 campaign was brought to a close amid the coronavirus pandemic.


A poor run of form saw him resign in March 2021, and Strasbourg pounced two months later.

Style of play:


Stéphan had largely preferred a 4-4-2 system at Rennes, and it is one he initially tried to implement at Strasbourg, but after three defeats in the opening five games he changed to a 3-5-2 formation with wingbacks, and le Racing have powered up the table since.


Kenny Lala may have departed for Olympiacos three months before Stéphan's arrival, but in Frédéric Guilbert, Anthony Caci and even ageing captain Dimitri Liénard, Strasbourg still had players who relish getting up and down the touchline. They have put in a league-high 507 crosses, with 12-goal Ludovic Ajorque first among those gobbling up the opportunities created.


Current campaign:


After their initial wobble, Strasbourg got on the straight and narrow and it took them until December to lose a further three games, and they climbed as high as fourth by Round 21, a position they last surrendered in Round 34 when they were edged 1-0 by champions LOSC.


The PSG game last Friday was a microcosm of Strasbourg's season, though: they can never be counted out. Trailing 3-1 after Kévin Gameiro's opener had been drowned out by an Achraf Hakimi strike and Kylian Mbappé's brace, Strasbourg battled back with Habib Diallo's header going in off Marco Verratti before Caci grabbed a 92nd-minute equaliser.


Watch: Highlights of Strasbourg's 3-3 draw with PSG

What they said:


"We often talk about football, of course. We travelled all over France due to our father's pro football career. We're citizens of France."


- Stéphan on his enduring relationship with brother Gullaume.


"At 3-1 for Paris, we have a group, including the players who came on, who simply won't give up. They went for something exceptional and achieved it. It almost feels like a victory. It's in our DNA not to let go. It's in the values of the club, they're my values. There's a synergy: we may not be the best, but we never give up. We showed our quality, our collective quality."


- Stéphan after the PSG result.


"This stadium lifted us throughout the match. Before I came on the coach told me that I was going to have one chance. I even dreamed that I was going to score today, and it came true!"


- Caci on his late leveller.

Top videos