Continental capers from Scandinavia to the Med
Things have gone very sour very quickly for Nancy, reports Jonathan Fadugba...
In a way, it was like a scene from a comedy show. Rennes had just taken the lead for the second time against Nancy, pushing into a 2-1 lead at the Stade Marcel Picot thanks to an absolute wonder goal from Romain Alessandrini.
Minutes later Nancy – cut adrift at the bottom of Ligue 1, in hopeless form and so bad their own fans recently erected a banner behind the goal with a giant red arrow pointing to the net with the words 'the goal is here' – won a penalty.
With eight minutes left, this was Nancy's chance. An opportunity to rescue a point, an opening to salvage something from the smouldering wreckage that has been ASNL's start to the season. But who would step up?
To audible gasps from sections of the home crowd, substitute Paul Alo’o Efoulou walked forward to take the kick. “Djamel Bakar is supposed to take penalties but Alo'o Efoulou decided he'd take the initiative,” deflated Nancy coach Jean Fernandez sighed after the game.
Alo'o Efoulou stepped up, his faced etched with fear. He missed. Predictably Rennes went straight up the other end and made it 3-1, in part thanks to a mad rush of blood from goalkeeper Guy-Roland Ndy Assembé. "If I laugh," to paraphrase Lord Byron, "'tis that I may not weep." But what happened next was no laughing matter.
As disgusted Nancy supporters filtered out of the stadium, a group of around 300 fans managed to sneak into the bowels of the stadium via a side door, making it as far as the home dressing room. Suddenly, all hell broke loose.
As the players tried to make their way through the narrow corridor into the dressing room, fights broke out. A serious scuffle ensued: punches were thrown, cameramen were sent flying and it required police back-up to help security stop the melée and restore order to a club thrown deep into crisis.
For the players, already humiliated and floundering at the foot of the table, the shock was palpable. Some left the stadium in tears, traumatised by the experience. “It was surreal,” said Ndy Assembé, a particular boo-boy target who took a blow to the face. “I was one of the first to see these guys enter the dressing room. I even took a punch, but fortunately it wasn't too serious as I was able to avoid the full impact.”
“I can understand that people are unhappy with the results but those who came into the dressing room with such hatred are not real fans, no matter what they say,” lamented defender Joel Sami.
“We were scared, because you never know how far people like that can go. There were knives on the table, to cut fruits that we eat in the dressing room. What if someone had picked up one of these knives? Everyone has to realise that we, the players, are the first to be affected by the situation. ASNL is our club. It's our life.”
The fights, broadcast unwittingly via a backstage camera feed, were truly remarkable. "Intolerable and absurd" in the eyes of club president Jacques Rousselot. Fortunately no-one was injured.
After a promising first season under Fernandez it has all gone wrong for Nancy, who currently sit bottom of the table with just one win and nine defeats from 12 games. A former Marseille, Lille, Metz and Auxerre coach who led Auxerre into the Champions League merely two years ago, Fernandez guided les Nancéens to a creditable 11th-placed finish last season – their best in four years.
Fernandez wonders where it's all gone wrong
Playing an effective and functional (if slightly drab) style of football, Nancy were resolute and tough to beat at the best of times last year. The season's highlight came in doing the double over big-spending Paris Saint-Germain, with wins seemingly so impressive it prompted Carlo Ancelotti to vote Fernandez the best coach in Ligue 1 at the annual end of season awards.
From that platform, the club that gave Arsene Wenger his break in management back in the 1980s and boasts Michel Platini as one of its finest ever players was supposed to push on and reach for new heights this year. But having lost some of their star performers during the summer – Bakaye Traore to AC Milan and Samba Diakite to QPR, to name but two – Fernandez has struggled to fill the void.
Coupe de la Ligue winners as recently as 2006, Nancy now already look in real danger of being embedded in a relegation scrap, so terrible have they been this season. Withb the team leaking goals and as hopeless in attack as a Donald Trump Twitter election rant (five goals in 1,080+ minutes of football!), Rousselot recently met with the manager for showdown talks and has politely reminded the players of the club's history, in an attempt to jolt them into some kind of awakening.
Fernandez, who held talks with Lyon before joining Nancy in 2011, has called this "the toughest moment of my career." He has previously described himself as a "sensitive" man who "likes to feel the warmth of people around him". For now Nancy's descent into l'enfer has left him – and his job security – at boiling point.
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