The huge cup upset that shocked France, again


View photo


A rural town with a population of barely 7,000, it is a wonder that Guingamp has a professional football team at all, and yet on Saturday the local club lifted the French Cup for the second time in five years, repeating their 2009 triumph against their bigger and more powerful regional rivals Rennes.

Far away from the big city and with no mega-rich owner, Guingamp have become the model provincial club, well run and capable of beating the odds to achieve success on the pitch. Five years ago, they were the rank outsiders from the second tier when they took on Rennes at the Stade de France only to come from behind and win 2-1 thanks to a brace from unheralded Brazilian forward Eduardo.

This time around they came to the national stadium as a Ligue 1 side, just two points worse off than Rennes, but with only half the operating budget of the side from the capital of Brittany. Nevertheless, all the pressure was on Rennes, French football's great underachievers who had not won a major trophy since 1971.

Philippe Montanier's Rennes side played as if the weight of history was on their shoulders. Just like last season, when they lost 1-0 to Saint-Etienne in the League Cup final, they failed to create a single chance of note, while goals in either half from defender Jonathan Martins Pereira and striker Mustapha Yatabaré gave Guingamp a convincing 2-0 win.

For the French-born Malian international striker Yatabaré, who almost joined Trabzonspor in Turkey in January but is now on the radar of clubs in England, it was a 19th goal in all competitions this season and an eighth of the cup run.

His strike, 50 seconds into the second half, summed up the misery of the evening for Rennes. Montanier was in the middle of giving a live interview to a touchline reporter, explaining how he hoped his team would get back into the game, when the unmarked Yatabaré headed home from six yards. It was game over after that, as Guingamp eased to a victory that their coach Jocelyn Gourvennec described as "exceptional".

The 42-year-old's ambition is to coach in the Champions League, where he played with Nantes in the 1990s. During an 18-year playing career, which took in two spells with Rennes, he never won a major trophy, so he has already bettered that record as a coach, and now the sky appears to be the limit.

When he took over Guingamp in 2010, a year after their first French Cup win, the club had just been relegated to the third division for the first time in more than three decades. But he took them straight back up and then needed just two more years to lead them into Ligue 1.

They are not out of place at the highest level. Guingamp's population may have been able to fit into the Stade de France 11 times over, but the club where Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda both starred a decade ago stoke passions throughout northern Brittany. They have nearly 10,000 season ticket holders and average gates are almost 15,000 at their Stade du Roudourou home. On Sunday, the ground was full of 'peasants', as the supporters call themselves, to see the team parade the French Cup.

However, with Guingamp now forced to revert their focus to their ongoing battle to avoid relegation back to Ligue 2, Gourvennec had a warning for his team when he said: "Everyone is so proud. We did it, but now we have to finish the job in Ligue 1 and make sure we're safe."

Guingamp may already have European football to look forward to next season, but they are currently just one point above the relegation zone and must now go to Monaco on Wednesday. Rennes, meanwhile, must somehow bounce back quickly for they are not safe either.

Saturday was the latest body blow for a club who have never succeeded in getting their hands on silverware despite the considerable investment of the billionaire Pinault family over the last 15 years. Indeed Guingamp were in the sixth tier of French football when Rennes last won a trophy.

Owner François-Henri Pinault was there on Saturday with his wife, the actress Salma Hayek, to witness his club's latest debacle. The next morning disgruntled fans hung a banner at the club's training ground which contained just one word: 'Shameful'.

Suddenly they look like being lambs to the slaughter when they return to Paris on Wednesday to face PSG, who will clinch the title with a win.

Andy Scott - @andpscott

View comments (2)