While most of us are deeply embedded, or bored to tears, after a couple of weeks of the World Cup, there will be many a supporter of some of the lesser, nay unknown, clubs in European football who will keenly be anticipating the draw for the First Qualifying Round of the 2014-15 Europa League.
Along with clubs who have won major European trophies, including Sevilla, the current holders of the Europa League trophy, Everton, Spurs, European Cup winners PSV and Inter Milan there are myriad clubs that you may struggle to find on the map.
One of the best, fairy tale stories to emerge from last season’s European domestic leagues came to light in France. Any watchers of SkySportsNews would have seen the end of campaign record of the French Ligue 1 and the clubs who qualified for this coming season’s UEFA club competitions. Along with famous names like PSG, Monaco, Lille, St Etienne and Lyon was a club not many people this side of the Channel had heard of until this season – EA Guingamp.
Further research led to discovery of a double-edged sword hanging over the Breton club who were struggling in their first season back in the top flight having won promotion in 2013. While Guingamp were fighting to stave off relegation they were battling their way through the French FA Cup competition. It was a trophy they won as a second tier club as recently as 2009 and when they qualified for this season’s final they did it in some style.
Standing between Guingamp and the final was the formidable force that is Monaco, the millionaire club pushing the billionaire club PSG all the way for the Ligue 1 title. Unperturbed, the Breton club swept Monaco aside after extra time. They took the lead through Mustapha Yatabaré but that was later cancelled out by a familiar name, Dimitar Berbatov, to take the game to extra-time. Eight minutes from the end of the additional period Guingamp made the breakthrough when Fatih Atık put them 2-1 up. Yatabaré clinched the trophy with his second goal of the game, his 18th of the season.
In the final, Guingamp faced Brittany rivals FC Rennes – the very same side they beat back in 2009. And to put the contest in to some kind of perspective, the population of Rennes is approximately 200,000. There are just 7,276 inhabitants of Guingamp, indeed there are more club members than there are residents.
Led by Breton native coach Jocelyn Gourvennec, Guingamp beat their local rivals 2-0 with goals either side of half-time, from Jonathan Martin Pereira and Mustapha Yatabaré to seal not only the cup but also qualification for the Europa League. Midfielder Lionel Martin, aged 32, was the sole survivor from the 2009 team, and took his personal tally of French Cup winners’ medals to four, having also won twice with Auxerre. He now needs just one more to equal the record.
But Guingamp still had the threat of a quick return to Ligue 2 to contend with. After the final they were just one point above the relegation zone with only three games left. In the first of those games they held Monaco 1-1 and thus handed the title to PSG. The penultimate game, a 2-0 defeat of Toulouse virtually ensured safety although they lost the last game 1-0 to Marseilles.
So when Everton, Spurs and Hull fans eagerly seek the opposition they will face in the Europa League they may just know a little bit more about Guingamp than they did in May.