The revival of Ligue 1 sleeping giant AS Saint-Étienne

The landscape of modern French football is dominated by billionaire owners and the finances associated with their chosen football clubs.

Nouveau riche Paris Saint-Germain are the current Ligue 1 champions and look set to retain this status, largely down to the backing of the Qatari Investment Authority.

Laurent Blanc’s side has been most closely challenged by newly promoted and very-newly wealthy Monaco, courtesy of Dmitry Rybolovlev’s investment.

The influx of world-class players such as Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva and Radamel Falcao only serve to increase the quality of French football, but therein lies the problem.

Most top-tier clubs are functioning under moderate means and are in a situation where they inevitably have to sell their best players when significant interest arises. Competing with the financial muscle of PSG and Monaco is therefore a thankless and arduous task.

However, one historic team looks set to continue its rise towards the summit of French football and potentially challenge the moneymen – against all the odds.

AS Saint-Étienne is the most successful club in French football history, having won ten top-flight titles since the club was formed in 1919 – equal to the combined number PSG and Monaco have amassed over the years.

The Stade Geoffroy-Guichard outfit’s first title came all the way back in 1957, before long periods of dominance in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Four consecutive titles between 1967 and 1970 were backed up by three on the trot between 1974 and 1976, with their last triumph coming in 1981.

Names such as Aimé Jacquet, Jacques Santini, Blanc and Michel Platini are synonymous with the club and its rich history.

AS Saint-Étienne fansSince that triumph 33 years ago, Saint-Étienne have bounced between the first and second tiers of the game in France, but have played consistently in Ligue 1 since 2004-05.

The club’s best finish since has been fifth place in 2007-08, again shocking many with their overachievement, but there is every chance that Christophe Galtier’s men can eclipse that this season.

At the time of writing Saint-Étienne are in fourth place, four points behind Lille in third and in with a real chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Their strong campaign has been despite the fact that a number of excellent players have come through their books only to be sold on in recent years.

The likes of Blaise Matuidi, Dimitri Payet, Bafétimbi Gomis and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have all prospered at the club and been sold on when the appeal of a domestic of foreign suitor comes along.

The latest revelation to emerge from Saint-Étienne is Kurt Zouma, who is tipped for superstardom in the game and has agreed a move to Chelsea from next season.

Josuha Guilavogui has returned to the club on loan after a slow start to life with Atlético Madrid, with the talented midfielder playing his part in the side’s push for European qualification.

The side is not strewn with superstars like the teams around them in the higher echelons of the Ligue 1 table, but a togetherness and team spirit has continued their progression under Galtier.

An example of their ability to mix it with the big boys came earlier this month when Saint-Étienne beat Monaco 2-0 at home, despite their side costing a fraction of the hundred of millions that it took to assemble their opponents’ XI.

A real test of their ambitions will occur this weekend, as they take the dreaded trip to the Parc des Princes to face PSG.

Saint-Étienne were robbed of a famous victory in the reverse fixture earlier this season, with the current league leaders clawing back a 2-0 deficit and old boy Matuidi cruelly netting an equaliser against his former club in the 93rd minute.

To fight against the newly rich sides over a long period of time looks like an impossible task for Saint-Étienne in their current state, but the romantic notion that an historic club is once more rising certainly adds to the appeal of Ligue 1.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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