A seagull following French football's sardine trawler
With the passing of spring and the end of the season approaching, tempers are beginning to flare in Ligue 1, even among the most reserved of players.
After watching Lyon surrender a two-goal lead in injury time away to hometown club Nice and draw 2-2 last Sunday, the usually timid goalkeeper Hugo Lloris shouted at his teammates Maxime Gonalons and Aly Cissokho that they didn’t deserve to wear the shirt, before pacing down the tunnel pursued by a Canal+ camera crew screaming: “We shat ourselves! I’ve had it up to here with this sh*t!”
As a child, the France No 1 used to play tennis a short drive down the road from the Stade Municipal du Ray at the Combes club and had a poster of Pete Sampras on his bedroom wall. This, however, was pure John McEnroe.
“Hugo expressed himself in quite an expressive manner,” said Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, his ailing team now in fourth place and eight points off the pace. “Even if his reaction surprised me, it’s healthy. There was perhaps an excessive use of language but he was fed up, you know.”
Wayne Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson no doubt nodded their approval. Lest we forget, Rudyard Kipling entitled his most famous poem If for a reason. Not everyone can keep their heads when all about them are losing theirs. Not even league leaders Lille.
In pole position since the end of November, Rudi Garcia’s side travelled to Monaco on Saturday evening looking to record a fifth win in a row and strengthen their grip on a first championship title for 57 years.
Aptly for a coach in charge of a relegation threatened team whose ground sits directly above a car park, Laurent Banide left the Monaco bus in front of the goal. “Yes, I watched the three games in which Lille suffered defeat,” he revealed. “The attitude to have is to either be completely offensive and go for it or to be rather defensive and take your chances.”
Banide unsurprisingly opted for the latter, acknowledging the fact that tasting victory in the principality has become about as hard as paying tax and as painful as a Prince Albert. Indeed, Monaco have won just three times in front of their home support at the Stade Louis II this season, the last such occasion coming back in early February.
Park Chu-Young was one of only two naturally attacking players in Banide’s starting line-up but the South Korea captain still managed to set the cat among the pigeons after 12 minutes, pouncing on Adil Rami’s underhit backpass before ruthlessly taking the ball around Mickaël Landreau to score the opener.
As it turned out, the goal would prove his second winner in as many weeks and his 11th of the season.
Lille were shell-shocked. Garcia complained that two Monaco players had come from an offside position while Rami and Landreau berated each other. “There was a disagreement,” the defender admitted. “It’s between us. We’ll talk about it again in training.”
Things would get worse before the interval for the visitors. Gervinho was given a straight red card for pushing the Monaco left-back Adriano to the floor after a rash tackle and the mountain Lille had to climb just got steeper. “The referee made his move, but they should have been reduced to 10 before us,” said Yohann Cabaye. “Gervinho got riled up, but he takes a lot of knocks and never responds.”
Rami twice came close to redemption, while Eden Hazard was guilty of wasting a chance to equalise late in the second half, meekly hitting a squared cross from Franck Béria into the grateful hands of Monaco goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier from the edge of the six-yard box. Not even Lille’s bench, the most prolific in Ligue 1, could rescue the result.
When the final whistle blew after six long minutes of added time, Garcia had to dash on to the pitch to stop a melee. His frustrated players were taking aim at the referee and Monaco’s presumed negativity. “For me, they didn’t play football,” said Florent Balmont. “We came across a handball team,” added a tetchy Aurélien Chedjou.
The drama, however, was far from over, as Rami let his emotions get the better of him in an interview with Canal +. “It’s really sh*t,” he snarled. “There was my individual error that brought the goal, but we did not play with heart… We’ll have to lance the boil.
“Today certain things weren’t done in the right spirit by certain players. It’s really starting to break my balls. Either you play with the heart and let your body do the rest or you premeditate things in which case you’re not made of the right stuff to be a Lille player.”
Monaco threw everything in Lille's way - including Georgie Welcome...
The outburst was remarkable for it was so out of character. Rami, after all, is anything but the kind of player to throw his teammates under the bus. In Saturday’s L’Équipe he went through each member of Lille’s squad, highlighting their merits. Rio Mavuba was described as “top,” Mathieu Debuchy as “Robocop,” Stéphane Dumont as “our Steven Gerrard” and 20-goal striker Moussa Sow as a “golden guy.”
After Garcia finished his post-match press conference in Monaco, Rami - probably at the recommendation of Lille’s directors - took to the stand to explain his comments. “We talk a little sh*t when we’re angry… My teammates know me. It’s nothing bad,” he sighed before jokingly pleading insanity. “I was taking aim at myself as it’s like I am living with two or three people…”
A further apology was forthcoming on Sunday afternoon in an attempt to downplay reports of disharmony in the Lille dressing room. “Even if we lost, there is still a good atmosphere in the group. We remain competitors. We are a little edgy.” And rightly so, for the title race seemed to be open again.
Second placed Marseille had a chance to get within a point of Lille on Sunday. Didier Deschamps’ side faced midtable Toulouse at home and considering that they had won seven of their last eight matches few saw the champions missing out on such a golden opportunity.
Instead, things didn’t exactly go to plan for OM who could only draw 2-2 and needed André-Pierre Gignac to come off the bench and score a late equaliser against his former club six minutes from time. “Agreed, a point at home is not sufficient, but we must be happy with it,” Deschamps said. As for Lille, well, they can sleep easy, according to L’Équipe. Monaco, however, might just be the wake up call Garcia’s side needs.
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