Corsican connection hoping to drive Saint-Etienne
By A. Scott
As they prepare to face promoted Stade Brestois 29 on Sunday, AS Saint-Etienne are hoping their Corsican connection can lead them to another successful season after the shock of coach Jean-Louis Gasset's exit.
AS Saint-Etienne - Stade Brestois 29
The veteran Ghislain Printant was promoted from his role as assistant to become the number one in the dugout at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard and has overseen the arrival of a host of exciting new signings ahead of a campaign which sees Saint-Etienne return to the UEFA Europa League.
Chief among them has been Ryad Boudebouz, with the crafty winger returning to Ligue 1 Conforama after two years in Spain, where he turned out for Real Betis and Celta Vigo. The Algerian signed a three-year deal with Les Verts paying a reported €3.5 million for his services.
The 29-year-old was one of five new recruits who started as Sainté kicked off their campaign with a 2-1 win away to Dijon FCO in Burgundy thanks to early goals from Romain Hamouma and debutant Jean-Eudes Aholou, the latter set up by Boudebouz.
"Physically we are not at our best yet. We will need to remain focused for now because when the Europa League starts there will be far less time to work. We need to quickly take on board what the coach says," said Boudebouz.
Highlights: Sainté start season with win at Dijon
He was attracted to the former European Cup finalists by the prospect of working with Printant once again, while also teaming up with old SC Bastia teammate Wahbi Khazri.
Boudebouz was at Bastia between 2013 and 2015, playing with Tunisian international Khazri in his first season in Corsica and playing under Printant in his second campaign. He was also a teammate of Julien Sablé, who is now assistant coach at Saint-Etienne.
Asked what was behind his decision to return to France, Boudebouz told sports daily L'Equipe: "To get back the confidence of a club and a coach and set up goals for my teammates. I am not selfish and that is what I do best on the pitch. I play football to find solutions, not to be unhappy. When Ghislain called me, I didn't think twice. I called my wife and I said yes."
Boudebouz, as it happens, is a replacement for Corsican-born Rémy Cabella, who was lured to Russia by the offer of a lucrative contract from FC Krasnodar. Khazri was the main man last season, though, scoring 13 league goals. He could be forgiven for lacking freshness, however, after Tunisia's run at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt denied him an extended close-season break.
"It was not easy, it was more of a gamble," Printant said of his decision to select Khazri last weekend. "I have confidence in my players. I had asked Wahbi to prepare. I told him to give his all for 45-50 minutes and I don't regret that decision."
There was some scepticism when Printant -- who was sacked by Bastia in early 2016 -- was appointed as coach and replacing his friend Gasset will be no easy task, but beating Brest in their first home game, and making it six points from a possible six to start the season, will ease any lingering doubts among supporters before they go to Christophe Galtier's Lille next.
Highlights: Brest draw on return to top flight
Saint-Etienne have never lost at home to Brest in the top flight, winning nine of their previous 11 encounters, most recently a 4-0 success in August 2012 when Hamouma was among the scorers. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang netted twice that day.
Brest are back in the elite after a six-season absence but there was some frustration as they kicked off with a 1-1 draw against Toulouse in Brittany last weekend. Mathias Autret put them ahead, but last season's 27-goal top scorer Gaëtan Charbonnier had a penalty saved before Olivier Dall'Oglio's team conceded a late equaliser.
Dall'Oglio, who was in charge at Dijon last season and is now aiming to keep the Bretons up, has seen two more new faces arrive since the opening game. Experienced midfielder Paul Lasne has joined from Montpellier Hérault SC, while Irvin Cardona is one for the future. The young forward arrives from AS Monaco on a four-year contract.
Saint-Etienne: To follow
Brest: To follow