With Stade Brestois set to play their second match against leaders Paris Saint-Germain in ten days, this time in the Coupe de France, we look at the success of the Breton side under manager Éric Roy.
Now, thirteen months, on, his appointment looks a masterstroke. There were green shoots of last season as the team won six of nine matches to pull well clear of the relegation battle, but with attacking lynchpin Franck Honorat having been sold in the summer and no replacement having been drafted in, Roy’s task this season looked equally difficult.
To say the opposite has been true would be an understatement. Currently on an eleven-match unbeaten run, Roy has Les Pirates in third place off the back of draws with fellow Champions League contenders OGC Nice and Paris Saint-Germain.
A former manager at Nice before taking roles as sporting director at Lens and Watford, Roy himself admitted that his return seemed unlikely, as he recalled to Ouest-France at the close of last season, having been previously passed over for the role before the club appointed Olivier Dall’Oglio, and considered himself out of the running even up to his appointment.
“Greg (Lorenzi, Brest’s sporting director) said to me, "We're looking, but we want a different profile. I thought, if they were going to call me back, it would be before the World Cup. But when I saw that they had returned with the staff still in place, I didn't even think about it anymore. In the meantime, I had received several calls for different posts. Then Greg contacted me at the end of December to ask me if I am ready to meet the president. It was 11 or noon, there was an airplane in the early afternoon, and I saw that Brest were hosting Lyon that evening. I saw the president the next day, it happened like this.”
Installed in the job, Roy had only one win in his first two months in charge, but would later turn things around in the run-in. Roy’s start may have been a bumpy one, but through experimentation and a reshuffle, particularly in defence, his creativity in the use of certain players has paid massive dividends. “Everyone fulfilled their role, we didn't argue, and I was deciding what I thought was the best central defensive partnership. In the end, we have this one because the dynamics are good. Concerning Pierre (Lees-Melou, who has played a deeper role than in his spell at Nice), it was obvious that he had the quality to play there, in relation to his intelligence in the game, to his ability to bring the ball out from the back. In central midfield, I like to have aggressive players and Hugo (Magnetti) and Mahdi (Camara) have the ability to have that role. Winger Jérémy (Le Douaron) has imposed himself naturally: he is a boy who, when you do not have the ball, makes the effort for the collective. He has also been rewarded for his efforts. All the players work hard defensively, and it’s helped us gain confidence.”
Magnetti, one of the beneficiaries of this shuffling owing to his hard work, spoke recently to ligue1.com and confirmed this, saying of Roy’s effect on the team, “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.”
Magnetti also spoke of Roy’s overarching approach, saying, “(He asks us) 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.”
Now that fight continues with a real chance at silverware for Brest as they head to Paris for tonight’s match. The team will be full of confidence after showing their ability to go toe-to-toe with the capital side, whom they might be expecting to catch casting an eye ahead to their Champions League match next week.
Paris Saint-Germain (4-3-3): Navas; Zaïre-Emery, Mukiele, Pereira, Beraldo; Soler, Ugarte, Asensio; Dembélé, Mbappé, Barcola
Stade Brestois 29 (4-4-2): Coudert; Lala, Chardonnet, Le Cardinal (or Brassier), Locko; Camara, Martin, Magnetti, Pereira Lage (or Del Castillo); Mounié, Satriano