AC Arles-Avignon – Wake me up when September ends

Derby day destruction: Arles-Avignon brushed aside by Marseille

After August’s abysmal start to Arles-Avignon’s first time in Ligue Un, hopes were slim for September’s fixtures. Low and behold, Arles-Avignon didn’t deliver on the field and are still yet to achieve a point, But they certainly delivered in terms of off the pitch ludicrousness.

The main story of the month at the club was the dismissal of manager Michel Estevan. Now, this happened before as you may recall in July, after Estevan has brought the club to the promised land (a term Arles probably don’t want to say anymore) and the disagreements over his salary. He was reinstated soon after, mainly down to the players protests. Not this time. Estevan was suspended for 5 days after their 4-0 away defeat against PSG and right before their derby against Marseille. He was soon sent packing.

Now, you can’t dispute that Arles-Avignon’s early season form was the worst possible, but the lack of loyalty to the coach who brought this team from the 5th tier of French football to the top, is in my opinion rather sickening. The chances of Arles staying up beforehand were remote, but it seems the club president Salerno is intent on stopping the rot and the power struggle in the boardroom is well documented, and Salerno decided it best for the club to change the coach now rather than later. Bold move.

His quick-fix solution was the appointment of former Bosnian coach Faruk Hadzibegic. Not exactly a big name to anyone outside of his native country, but the 52 year-old has been around the blocks a bit. A former Yugoslavian sweeper (possibly useful having a defensive minded manager considering that Arles have conceded 20 goals this season already) in the 1980’s but more famously remembered for his penalty miss at Italia 90. You can’t take away anything from a man in that terrific Yugoslav side, featuring Pompey legend Robert Prosinecki.

Estevan's replacement. Best of luck Faruk

His foray into management started in France at Sochaux in 1995, whom he took to Ligue 1 within 2 years.  Spells at lower league French clubs such as Troyes, Dijon and his last side Bastia suggest that he could be the man to work something out at Europe’s most dysfunctional club. Then again, the amount of teams he’s managed in a decade, and the fact he was relegated last season with Bastia makes me think this spell in Southern France won’t end favourably either.

Also, in rather predictable news this month, Robert Duverne, the notorious fitness coach from the French World Cup squad jumped ship after around  two months as part of the set-up. Now, it would be wrong of me to suggest a Frenchman is a quitter, a unfair stereotype, but there is something slightly unnerving about Duverne. However, it hasn’t put Gerard Houiller off bringing him to Aston Villa as a fitness coach. Let’s hope he doesn’t fall out with John Carew a la Anelka. That’s a fight you are bound to lose.

Salerno told Reuters of the club crisis: “What worries me is what I saw at the Parc des Princes. Some players have no place at Arles-Avignon.”

He wants to stay at the top table, but unfortunately doesn’t have the quality to stay there. Risky signings such the Greek contigent of Angelos Charisteas and Angelos Basinas plus Spanish duo Francisco Pavon from Real Zaragoza and Alvaro Meija from Real Murcia  just haven’t paid the dividends. Old stock in most cases and Meija given the unenviable task of trying to stop the continous barrage from opposing teams.

Keeper Vincent Plante with Ligue Un's toughest task

One glimmer of hope for the side is keeper Vincent Plante, who’s been very good between the sticks often saving Arles-Avignon from a thrashing and limiting the damage. Arles can always rely upon Benjamin Psaume, their talismanic midfielder to show passion for the team, unfortunately the rest of the team seem condemned to relegation. Already.

Arles-Avignon’s results in September took a turn for the worse, although the opponents were that much tougher. As mentioned previously, PSG hammered them 4-0 in the Parc Des Princes. This was followed by a huge home derby against Marseille and it seemed destiny for Andre Ayew to grab two of the goals in a 3-0 win for OM. Ayew didn’t celebrate much, and the fans applauded his performance upon substitution. He was an integral part of their promotion last year, it seems a long way away now. It was a much-needed win for Marseille after their problems in the opening weeks.

Next, a cup game against Caen, where only 4,000 Arles fans saw the team succumb to a 1-0 loss. Respectable considering Caen’s good start, and a fabulous strike by Kandia Traore. Finally, a 3-1 loss against Montpellier compounded the all-round general misery, although Yann Kermorgant grabbed Arles third goal in 8 games. Yes, the only thing remotely positive to say.

So what of October. Well the weekend saw Auxerre destroy Arles 4-0, but maybe they can turn it around. Here’s the fixtures for this month after the international break (or a rest for Arles’ case.)

16th Oct – Brest (A)

24th Oct – Lyon (H)

29th Oct – Lorient (A)

Two tough away games to teams who’ve had great starts to the season and hosting another giant, slumbering this season in Lyon. Their best chance is probably the Lyon game, again unlikely but with Lyon this season, anything is possible.

Here’s some highlights of Arles-Avignon’s ‘performances’ in September, with the rather strange choice of ‘Starlight’ by the Supermen Lovers. Arles aren’t a shining star, more a supernova of a club.


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