FC Nantes might forfeit a win, but they're back where they belong

Euro Footy Focus: The Ligue 1 club are on France's most iconic clubs

When a country’s third most successful club earns a 2 – 0 win at home to an unheralded team like Bastia on the opening day of the season, you would be forgiven for not batting an eyelid.

But FC Nantes winning return to Ligue 1 for the first time in four years is an interesting subplot in a league where the publicity is going the way of PSG and Monaco.

However the club from France's sixth largest city could be forced to forfeit that result after fielding an ineligible player during the game. The player in question - Abdoulaye Toure - was supposed to be serving a suspension but somehow took to the field. The fiasco led star striker Filip Djordjevic to claim that 80 per cent of the club's staff were incompetent and amateurish for allowing such an error to occur, also citing other examples from his five years at the club.

But a possible three point deduction aside, Nantes will want to seize the opportunity that has come their way. 

To recap, Nantes is one of France’s most storied clubs. Eight league titles and three Coupe de France dazzle inside the trophy cabinet, a Champions League semi-final in 1996 is still in recent memory, while the club’s formerly potent academy is responsible for launching the careers of a succession of France legends and internationals like Claude Makalele, Christian Karambeu, Patrice Loko, Didier Deschamps, Jeremy Toulalan and Marcel Desailly just to name a few.

Based on those names you could argue that Nantes has had the best academy in the history of French football.

Yet the club’s location near the Atlantic coast – hence the former full name FC Nantes Atlantique – and the fact it operated in the French league meant the team was always relieving itself into an Atlantic hurricane when it came to developing itself into an elite side. All the youngsters they produced went on to success at Europe's winning clubs, with some like Deschamps, Desailly and Karamebeu forming the spine of the France side that won World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000.

But for all of Nantes success they never really created a dynasty, winning titles every few years rather than consecutively. The last Ligue 1 crown for the jaunes-verts came in 2001.

From there on in, the club stagnated partly due to instability at boardroom level with new investors and owners coming in every few years and managers sacked more regularly than in the formerly stable past. One of those was the Dassault Groupe who took over in 2004 and were criticised for not showing interest in the footballing side of the club. 

(Ligue 1 (Officiel))

On the pitch, Nantes flirted with relegation on numerous occasions with many of the club's stars turning against the team.

Relegation was finally consummated in 2007 as the Canaries nosedived into Ligue 2 but they bounced back at the first opportunity.

However they had their wings clipped again after a poor season and poor transfer market dealings and ended up back in the second tier where they remained until this May.

The years in Ligue 2 were traumatic. Their first season back in the second division saw them avoid relegation to the Championnat Nationale by just two points. The following season saw little improvement, avoiding demotion to the third division by just three points.

But 2011/12 was an improvement for Nantes as they consolidate ninth position, just one point behind AS Monaco.

That was built on last season as Nantes pushed for promotion by finishing third. Yet in their first season back, many pundits are suggesting that the Canaries will still be in the top flight next season, despite falling at the first attempt last time they returned to Ligue 1.

Firstly it helps that current manager Michel Der Zakarian knows the club intimately. Popular with his players and credited with bringing unity, the Franco-Armenian 50-year-old was a member of the Nantes side that won Ligue 1 in 1983 as a player, managed the club’s reserves in 2006 and served as assistant coach in 2007.

In 2007/08 he was appointed first team manager and achieved promotion from Ligue 2 at the first attempt before he was unceremoniously dumped in August 2008 by current owner Waldemar Kita.

But he was back by the start of last season and masterminded promotion.  The squad is unashamedly young, with just two players over the age of 30. Over a dozen players are under the age of 22. Serbia cap Djordjevic provides the firepower, having scored 20 goals during their promotion push in Ligue 2. However, there is plenty of speculation regarding his future.

Yet the club’s academy has not been the main thrust for success. Aside from midfield pair Birama Toure (21) and Jordan Veretout (22), no academy products started the game against Bastia last weekend with the emphasis on a cheap squad cobbled together by astute purchases from outside the youth ranks and moulded together by Der Zakarian.

The manager has also installed a high pressing game in a 4-4-2, despite doubts that Nantes will have the stamina to keep that up throughout.

Before the transfer window closes, Nantes face winnable fixtures against Lorient and Stade Reims (another ultra-successful club that fell on hard times), sandwiching a game against reigning champions PSG.

Only time will tell, whether they will stay up with the probable forfeit of the opening game a blow when every point is vital. But with their bright yellow and green jerseys and rich history, Ligue 1 will benefit from having them aboard.