AC Arles-Avignon: Harsh reality of top-flight football (August)

Arles-Avignon line-up united against Rennes, but ultimately another defeat (Photos Jean-Pierre LUPI)

About a month or so ago, I wrote a piece about Ligue Un’s newest side AC Arles-Avignon. Within that, I attempted to chronicle the recent history of the small club, with their astronomical rise through the lower tiers of French football and the expectations of tricky times ahead for the side. So with four fixtures down, are the French underdogs emulating the start of their English counterparts Blackpool?

In a word, no. Arles-Avignon have started the league campaign with four straight defeats against Sochaux (who’ve stunned critics with their start), Lens, front-runners Toulouse and Rennes. They stand rock bottom of the league, 3 points adrift of Champions League qualifiers AJ Auxerre, who clearly have bigger fish to fry, or at least attempt to in the Group of Death.

That doesn’t mean Arles Avignon have been outclassed. Far from it in fact. Each defeat has been by a single goal, which is better than many pundits in France have been suggesting they would get on. The manager, Mr Marvel himself, Michel Estevan has been busy in the transfer market attracting no less than 15 new players in the window. The main draw being attracting Greek hero Angelos Charisteas, the man who scored the winning goal in the Euro 2004 final against Portugal of course, to the club.

Distant fairytale memories for Charisteas as he finds a new fable to write his name in

This could be an indication of how far the mighty have fallen in a matter of 6 years. Quite possibly considering that Fernando Santos’ first act as Greek coach was to drop him from the national side. He may have been declining since then, notably at Nurnberg, but no one can dispute the coup that Estevan has made actually bringing him to a club of Arles-Avignon’s stature. Couple that with fellow Greek, and former international captain Angelos Basinas, Estevan must be praised for bringing them to Arles but also for taking a gamble.

Some other players may be recognisable to English football fans, mainly for the wrong reasons. Yann Kermorgant, exiled by Leicester due to his penalty chip in the Playoffs, has played in all 4 games so far. Algerian Kamel Ghilas has been acquired on loan from Hull, after making 13 appearances last year in Humberside but never really showing any class and effectively playing in the reserves a lot of the time.

His best signing appears to be Vincent Plante, the superb keeper from Caen. If you need anything at this level, it’s an experienced pair of safehands in between the sticks, and he’s pulled off some magnificent saves so far this year, limiting the damage on occasion.

Arles-Avignon have been unlucky so far in Ligue 1. In the last game against Rennes, they were unfortunate to not at least get a point, dominating following on from Victor Montano’s 28th minute goal. Even Rennes manager, Frederic Antonetti sympathised with the task of Estevan. He said: “This team of Arles-Avignon has caused us many problems and they will create surprises in this league. When you rise up the league, from CFA2 to L1, with a club that does not have deep pockets, it shows you how good the manager is!”

The club president, Marcel Salerno was also confident that Arles could get out of the early season slump. He said on the club’s official website : “Against Rennes we showed that we had our place at this level, contrary to certain statements. We are on the right path.”

The main issue for the club at the moment is to create attendance at the Parc Des Sports. Now with a capacity of 17,518, the first two home games saw attendance around half of that. Of course this is mainly down to the fact that the club moved to to Avignon as they rose up the league to conform with league stipulations. Maybe that will change if the results do, you should back your local team.

Things won’t get easier in September for Arles-Avignon. Next up is a daunting trip to the capital to face PSG, not as tough a fixture as it was in the past though, followed up by the visit of the French champions, Olympique Marseille. Tough task, but if Arles want to make an impact in the league, this is surely the time to do it, with several teams having backroom issues and consistency only being found by Toulouse (4 wins from 4).

I hope to make this a monthly blog, keeping you up to date with my favourite French side. Here’s the highlights from Arles-Avignon’s home games so far

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Champions League group draw thoughts (Group E-H)

Group E: Bayern Munich, Roma, Basel, CFR Cluj

This group may seem very clear to whom will emerge from it, but the clash between Bayern and Roma promises to be exceptional. Bayern ran their luck all the way to the final last year, effectively with Arjen Robben bailing them out twice in the nick of time (Fiorentina/Manchester United) but they were well worthy of being in that final. Louis Van Gaal has built a tremendous side there, with the only weak area really being the left back, Holger Badstuber, which is incredibly harsh on a rookie. Last year marked a turning point in the wilderness for Bayern. Philipp Lahm finally managed to eradicate his form of a few years back, captain Mark Van Bommel is his usual combatant self and of course the combination of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben destroying full-backs and defences in general.

Add to that some underrated talent up front in Ivica Olic, Thomas Muller (who came of age at the World Cup), Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez and Bayern should look at least making the quarter finals. The only worry is the centre-back pairing of Van Buyten and Demichelis (a rumoured Chelsea signing) who were given the run around by Diego Milito in the final last year, and also the lack of big name summer signings. It shouldn’t be an issue really as Van Gaal is a master at getting the best of his players, that and his desire never to throw the towel in.

Roma are also very strong this year, following on from pushing Inter right down to the wire for the Scudetto. Ranieri’s improved the team a lot since he took charge, but can he convert that to European success? The centre back pairing of Juan and Mexes looks solid, but could be susceptible in the later stages. The addition of Adriano leaves a lot to be desired really, considering he doesn’t look near his former best. But Roma can call upon a superb midfield engine in Daniele De Rossi, Simone Perotta and David Pizarro, the latter being severely underrated as a central midfielder. They’ll rely on the everpresent and ever controversial Francesco Totti and Mirko Vucinic to bang in the goals, but is that enough?

FC Basel return to the Champions League after playing the Europa League last year, full of Swiss internationals who started with a bang in South Africa then ultimately petered out. The stand out players here would certainly be Benjamin Huggel, who is a consistent defensive midfielder, although at 33 could find the Roma and Bayern game tough. Up front is Alexander Frei, who has an impressive goal to game record at Basel, but again could be left wanting at this level, and his best days at Stade Rennais well in the past now. All in all, Basel have a look of Bolton about them, but a Euro version. It could work but most probably won’t, although Thorsten Fink who replaced Christian Gross as manager, has done a great job to get them here.

Finally CFR Cluj make another appearance in the Champions League, following on from two season ago where they beat Roma in the Stadio Olimpico. Serious doubts over whether they can top that. Like many Eastern European sides, they’ve got tons of journey Brazilians, none of which really have lived up to their potential. Cadu, their captain has been voted the best defender in Romania two years running will have to be at his upmost best to keep Vucinic, Olic and co at bay. They are managed by Andrea Mandorlini, who’s finally found success at  a club after knocking around Serie B for 10 years.

Winners: Bayern Runners Up: Roma

Group F: Chelsea, Marseille, Spartak Moscow, Zilina

Carlo Ancelotti should be fairly content with this group albeit it conjures a travel nightmare for their away games. This shouldn’t be a problem for one of the richer clubs in the world. Their signings over the summer have certainly bolstered their midfield options. Ramires adds another wide player, something pundits have claimed Chelsea have lacked, and Yossi Benayoun is a decent back-up in the Joe Cole benchwarmer role. We all know of Chelsea’s strengths, but this season could be an opportunity for younger players to make an impact, notably Daniel Sturridge and Jeffrey Bruma, a sturdy centre-back. They shouldn’t have any issues here.

The return of Didier Drogba to the Velodrome is the highlight here, and he should be given a rapturous reception by the Olympique fans. Which is a deep contrast to the internal struggles currently going on at the club. Didier Deschamps may have led them to the Ligue Un title last year but since then he’s seen several of his best leave the club, notably Mahamadou Niang (who wanted a fresh start at Fenerbahce) and Hatem Ben Arfa’s loan to Newcastle is imminent. Apart from that, they’ve had a pretty poor start to the season, although they finally won last weekend. Players for Chelsea fans to be wary of include Benoit Cheyrou (who’s better than Bruno),  Mathieu Valbuena who should thrive under no competition from Ben Arfa and finally Gabriel Heinze, who’s attributes are clear to Premier League fans.

Spartak Moscow could surprise a few. Firstly, the Luzhniki stadium (not a happy hunting ground for Chelsea and John Terry) could see teams fall foul of the artifical turf, yet Inter and Manchester United didn’t have issues last year. The weather in November could be another factor that could catch teams out. Apart from that, they’ve signed Aidan McGeady from Celtic who will be looking to do better than Garry O’Connor at Spartak. Welliton has been in stunning form in this year’s league bagging 13 goals for himself. They will be tough to beat at home, but could come a cropper away.

Finally, MSK Zilina qualified after eliminating Sparta Prague. I won’t try and claim that I know much about the side, but I promise a further blog into the side, before the Chelsea game. Either way, its a great achievement for the Slovakian side.

Winners: Chelsea Runners Up: Marseille

Group G: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Ajax, AJ Auxerre

The group that got everyone salivating. 20 European titles between three of them, and throw in Auxerre who were sensational to beat an albeit 9-man Zenit, and you have potential for some great action. Plus Kaka returns to Milan again, Clarence Seedorf and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar could return to two of their former clubs. Mouthwatering.

This group is difficult to call. Many have touted Real Madrid as the favourites for the trophy itself but Jose Mourinho would have liked to get an easier group. He drew a great top seed really, avoiding the English sides, but Ajax could easily throw a proverbial spanner in the works. It also remains to be seen whether he can co-exist with director Jorge Valdano at Real, since it seems inevitable there will be a power struggle of sorts. Will Jose adapt his style, most probably considering he has most times he’s joined a league. His summer signings have been great, Mesut Ozil was a nice bit of business for the fee, but Ricardo Carvalho could be a masterstroke. Real look weakest in defence, and it seems perfect for him to buy a player he knows so well, and generally improves his centre-back partner, which is great news for Sergio Ramos. Add to that the exciting duo Angel Di Maria and Sergio Canales (if given games), and you can see why Real have been installed as tournament favourites. That spectre of the 2nd round haunts them but not this time.

AC Milan on the other hand could struggle. Forever aging, forever manager changing, this could be a season of disappointment for the Rossoneri. That being said, some astute deals in signing Kevin Prince Boateng on loan and the impending Zlatan Ibrahamovic transfer possibly will strengthen a side that lacks youth and a good frontman. Alexandre Pato will be looking to prove Dunga wrong for not selecting him for the World Cup and the  duo of Seedorf and Pirlo have undoubted quality. They’ve also signed Marco Amelia on loan from Genoa to amend the goalkeeper problem, Abbiati is a liability at times.

Ajax finally return to the top stage, under Martin Jol, who encourages attacking football in his side. The frontline looks superb, particularly Luis Suarez who’s been dynamite up top for 12 months now. They’ve signed his international teammate Nicolas Lodeiro to strengthen the backline, which looks a lot better that it did, with Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel being the best of the bunch. The midfield looks decent, particularly Urby Emanuelson bombing down the left flank and Demy De Zeeuw, a supremely able midfielder. Ajax have huge potential.

Finally Auxerre, the outsiders handed a monster task. They dumped Zenit out to get here, and contain some quality players such as Stephan Grichting, a robust Swiss defender, Ireneusz Jelen and Anthony Le Tallec forming a good partnership up front. They will be dangerous from set-pieces mostly as Zenit found out. Had they been in an easier group they could have done well.

Winners: Real Madrid Runners Up: Ajax

Group H: Arsenal, Shaktar Donetsk, Braga, Partizan

Finally we reach the Gunners group, which looks good on paper but not so great once you delve into the logisitics of things. Wenger’s side always promise it to be their year but ultimately this passes on from season to season. This has to be their year in my opinion to win a trophy, will it be this one?

They’ve managed to keep hold of Cesc Fabregas, but his move is inevitable this following summer. The signing of Laurent Koscielny from Lorient looks to be another Wenger work in progress, and Squillaci from Sevilla will provide that experience so desperately needed. Jack Wilshere will be given time too, which is great news from an England stand-point in the long-run. Theo Walcott looks to have improved following his World Cup snub, deserved in my opinion and could mould himself into a great talent finally. But that underlying issue of the goalkeeper remains. Manuel Almunia looked assured against Liverpool and can’t get the critics off his back. Even if Arsenal did sign Schwarzer it’s a short term measure and more for the league than here. Arsenal should coast this group really.

There will be a quick reunion with former striker Eduardo after leaving for Shaktar in the summer, a good move for them since he lost pace from his leg injury and could make the Ukrainan league his playground. Other that Shaktar may look flash but otherwise don’t impress me. I saw them against Fulham in the Europa League last year. They dominated but couldn’t finish at home, and it ultimately cost them. Sounds a lot like another team in this group (I jest). Jadson is really their best player who looks skilful and a great finisher (notably in the Europa League final of 2009). The signing of Dmytro Chygrynskiy from Barca will shore up a weaker defence. Pep Guardiola didn’t want to let him go apparently, but the board needed to create funds.

Braga provided the biggest shock of qualifying beating highly fancied Sevilla in a thriller of a game. They almost won the Liga Sagres last year until a late collapse. They looked great upfront midweek, especially striker Lima who got a hat-trick. That being said they looked a bit shaky at the back, so improvement is needed there. But as Celtic and Sevilla found out, this side is lethal from a set-piece and from all around play really. Expect flair and passion from them for sure. They also have a player called George Lucas. I hope to god he hasn’t seen Brazilian Star Wars.

'The force is with Braga' George Lucas of Braga.....he did say this

Finally Partizan Belgrade will look to bring back the glory days of ’66 where they reached the European Cup Final (they don’t go on about it as much as England does). They participated in the world’s worst penalty shoot-out against Anderlecht to get here. From the highlights it was clear Cleo is a striker to be wary of, he finished off scraps and can find space easily. Also keep a look out for Sochaux loanee Ivan Stevanovic who is a decent right-back

Winners: Arsenal Runners Up: Braga

So there we have it. After today’s Europa League I’m not as excited about this draw as I was, but come September 14th I’m sure I’ll change my mind when Bremen take on Spurs.

I’ll leave you with my favourite goal from last year’s competition, starring Dutch wonder Arjen Robben

Six Pointer: Opening Day

The Premier League has returned after what seems a very short amount of time since John Terry lifted that famous trophy above his head in front of a packed Stamford Bridge. Well, of course we’ve had the worst World Cup ever in between all that, if you are to gauge punditry opinion across the board. I can ramble and rant about that again (believe me you don’t want me to) but instead we shall focus on a spectacular opening day in the English top flight and other events across Europe. Yes, that’s right the format is back. Six points recapping the best European football topics of the last week. Let’s crack on shall we?

1 Blackpool tower above woeful Wigan

Tangerine sea, amazing scenes

The start of the 10/11 Premier League will only be remembered for this game I feel. Chelsea and United played their opposition off the park, the chasing pack drew with each other. Not that these games were particularly low quality, far from it. But there was no shocking result. Fortunately for us, Blackpool announced their arrival to the big stage in the best possible manner, humiliating Wigan at the DW Stadium.

As good as Ian Holloway’s side were, Wigan’s first half performance was utterly shambolic at the back. It’s quite clear to me for the £9.5 million Wigan have spent this year, they lack a leader. No Scharner, Bramble or Melchiot to lead the troops and it showed. The back four weren’t organised, and Martinez looked despondent at what was going on. He needs to sign someone with experience to get Wigan structured. To be fair to Martinez, his substitutes worked at half time. Ronnie Stam looked decent when he came on. But all in all it was a fairly disasterous day for Wigan.

Full credit to Blackpool was laying down a superb marker in what is sure to be a tough season. Holloway is certainly creating the right atmosphere and team ethos and they’ll love every minute of being the underdog in practically every game. Doesn’t exactly get any harder than Arsenal away next. Wigan have Chelsea at home, but they did win that fixture last year. Can’t really see it this time.

2. Bellamy comes home (sort of)

39- Number of clubs Bellamy is either wanted by or played for

The first real casualty of the mega-bucks spending of Manchester City, for this year at least, looks to be Craig Bellamy. As much as I find some of his behaviour in the past to be reprehensible, I can’t really deny how good he was last year for them. His performance in the first Manchester derby last year was brilliant. It’s real shame that at the time he’s got his act together, he gets treated fairly badly by City and shipped off on a season loan to Cardiff City.

A very shrewd business move by City. He was highly sought after by their rivals, so why not give him to an aspiring club one tier lower. No doubt for me now that Bellamy will be sensational in that league and he might obtain cult status at the club (more than likely already has with that amount of Bellamy shirts printed).

It still baffles me how Bellamy didn’t make the 25 man squad for the league considering his level of performances last year, and I kind of hope that decision backfires on City. It probably won’t and of course this is me being slightly biased.

3. Steve Bruce loses rag, contrast between red face and blonde hair stark

Anthony Taylor gives Cattermole a record 234,690th red card,

He may well be one of the best centre-backs I’ve seen at United, but he’s becoming an irritating fool now. As we all know, Lee Cattermole is prone to a rush of blood to his noggin, and also drawing it from opponents with his elbow. How Bruce can slag off the ref for his officiating in the game against Birmingham is beyond me really. First yellow card may seem harsh, but I think the second offence warranted a red so it balanced out.

Bruce complained at the fast-tracking of referees. He said: “The ref (Anthony Taylor) was totally inadequate. I believe he’s only been refereeing four years so that is a huge decision to promote him to the Premier League.” Has it not occurred to you, Mr Bruce that for a referee to obtain Premier League status that quickly, he must be doing something correctly and furthermore, for us to get good referees, they need to officiate at the highest level sooner or later.

Bruce added “The last thing I want to do is criticise a young lad trying to make his way in the game but he was absolutely awful” Yeah well done there, Steve. Do exactly what you say you’re trying to avoid.

It’s opening day, it’s not going to cost you in the long run surely. He’ll escape FA punishment as well it seems.

4. European elites get off to slow start

A change of pace now as we take a Euro-trip across the other top leagues, except not as beer-fuelled.

  • Things in France are certainly intriguing and not just with the France national team investigation that has just concluded. Champions Marseille are in an early season crisis (and no I don’t mean an Arsenal crisis as hinted at by the Telegraph). Didier Deschamps hinted at club unrest, most likely down to the decisions of Mamadou Niang, who has since left to join Fenerbahce, and Hatem Ben Arfa trying to broker a Premier League move.Deschamps said: “There are a lot of negative things going on off the pitch, but we are making a lot of mistakes on the pitch also. They are not excuses, they are explanations”. Marseille have lost both their games in Ligue 1 this season against Caen and Valenciennes.
  • Over in Portugal, Benfica were stunned with an opening day defeat to Academica, with a glorious last minute winner from Laionel. Interesting to see how Benfica do this year, they’ve been well and truly raided by other European clubs, and I for one am amazed to see Fabio Coentrao still at the club. I don’t think this defeat will lead to a slide, but I think it will be a lot closer title race that last year, with Porto and Sporting both hoping to improve on last years efforts. Here’s that strike by the way, the first winner of 6Pointer Goal of the Week

5.  How to make your debut, Joe Cole style

Not that type of player.... apparently

The biggest talking point from the Super Sunday game between Liverpool and Arsenal. Now remember ‘Joe Cole isn’t that sort of player’, what a ludcrious argument that is. It was in an area of the pitch where tackles like that aren’t needed and Martin Atkinson was right to send off Joe Cole. The Koscielny red card was more contentious only for the fact he wasn’t consistent with hand balls but I thought he looked reasonably assured on his debut.

Not that it really mattered, Joe Cole was kept incredibly quiet by Arsenal and was outlassed by his Arsenal counterpart in Samir Nasri. Liverpool kicked on from that to take the lead through David N’Gog, who often recieves harsh criticism and unfair comparisons to Fernando Torres. He was aided by some poor defending from Arsenal though.

Arsenal came back, as you’d expect and grabbed a late equaliser from Pepe Reina not being able to see a football through the sun. According to Andy Gray. Either way it ended in a draw, no surprises.

6. Toon Army  Facial Hair Watch – Fixture 1

Every villain needs a moustache. Mr March perhaps for Joey?

Last night Twitter exploded with the news of Joey Barton’s moustache. The Newcastle squad have vowed not to shave until they win a league game.

Now some people can pull of facial hair. Tom Selleck, Ian Rush (sort of) and the Red Baron from the Wacky Races. Unfortunately for none of the Newcastle players can and it could be seen for a long time yet with the way Newcastle performed last night. It wasn’t bad but they were outclassed.

Could we see Joey go through different stages as the season progress? In fact I call for a calendar just for Joey Barton’s Moustaches. May’s offering could be a Fu Manchu if the situation doesn’t improve. 6pointer will keep you informed with a new feature – Toon Tash Watch.

I’m off to watch Zenit Auxerre, hopefully an entertaining game, see you next week

The rise and imminent demise of AC Arles Avignon

Many English football fans would say that Blackpool’s play-off victory over Cardiff City last May was one of the biggest underdog victories in recent memory. Blackpool had been a sleeping giant for well over 30 years and their return to the big league was truly memorable. But in fact, there is a bigger fairytale story in European football of a smalltown club which hasn’t had enough coverage considering how far the club has come in such a short time. That club is AC Arles Avignon.

If you thought the antics of Ian Holloway’s press conferences were crazy, then think again. AC Arles are perhaps one of the strangest clubs in Europe.

Arles is a small French city in the southern region of Bouches Du Rhone, with a population of just under 60,000 (about the same as Margate). It is about 50 miles from Marseille and is known for its Roman monuments, which are World Heritage sites. It also known for holding bullfighting in its amphitheatre. Famous people to come from Arles include former Liverpool and French international striker Djibril Cisse and Blackburn defender Gael Givet.

Considering that the town of Arles has produced two very talented footballers, you would think they would be higher up in the league. But the club has always languished in the lower leagues of French football, occasionally making it into Ligue 2 only to return back to non-league football, even dropping down to the 5th tier. The English equivalent of that would be the North West Counties League.

Michel Estevan, the manager behind the magic (Le Equipe)

But in 2005, Arles Avignon began their ascent out of French football obscurity. They hired Michel Estevan. Not a household name even in France. Estevan’s club career wasn’t impressive as he struggled to make a living as a centre-back in the 2nd and 3rd tiers of French football. The biggest club he played for was Nimes, who spent one season in Ligue 1.

By contrast his managerial career is undoubtedly superb. He took non-league FC Martigues to the quarter finals of the French cup, where they were narrowly beaten by Paris St Germain (a Ronaldinho goal no less). Despite that he was sacked after 25 league games. Martigues went down. They rehired him in February 2004 and then sacked him again 9 months later after failing to gain promotion to the National (French conference league basically).

Estevan joined Arles in 2005, at the request of chairman and good friend Chauvin Patrick. In his first season, Arles were promoted. Then in his second season, Arles were promoted. I think you see the trend here. In 07/08, they finished 8th in the National, but the following year they finished 3rd. Estevan’s nickname as the Magician was well justified and he has been compared to Guy Roux by some, a compliment of the highest order

However to gain promotion to Ligue 2, a club must have professional status. AC Arles had always been an amateur side. Their former ground, Stade Fernand Fournier had a capacity of 2,000. Fortunately, an agreement with nearby club Avignon 84 allowed them to play at the Parc Des Sports with a capacity of over 7,000. This also instigated a name change with Avignon being added to the club name. You’d think this would be beneficial to both sides, but relations are tense. Avignon is a bigger city and has a bigger stadium, and it’s fair to say that they are jealous of their neighbours sudden surge up the divisions.

Getting into Ligue 2 wasn’t exactly easy either. The DNCG (the French regulatory body) barred AC Arles Avignon from participating in the league due to financial problems within the club, likely caused from the change to professional status. They eventually won on appeal however.

Last season at AC Arles Avignon could be described as an emotional rollercoaster for fans, but that may be understating it slightly. If you were to liken Estevan to an English manager, he would be Sam Allardyce. Not due to the style of play but plucking young and old players from nowhere.

But he also is the master of the loan deal. He brought in Marseille’s Andre Ayew to bolster his side. This deal paid off big time and Ayew was sensational on the right wing. The 20-year old’s performances have impressed Didier Deschamps back at Marseille who says he will have more game-time next year. He was also impressive at the World Cup for Ghana, and was praised on this blog previously along with Kevin Prince Boateng.

But Estevan’s ragtag bunch of mercenaries were well worth their value last season in Ligue 2. They chalked up 16 wins, 12 draws and 10 defeats. The catalyst in Arles-Avignon’s season was an away fixture against Metz (The French West Bromwich Albion) on Matchday 34. Arles were 1-0 down but then scored twice in injury time. The winner was scored by Maurice Dale, who coincidently has left the club this summer for Unirea.

Arles-Avignon made tough work of the last few fixtures, which set up a winner-takes all match against Clermont on the final day of the season. Talk about tense. Here are the highlights from that game:

So after 5 seasons under Estevan, AC Arles-Avignon had reached the lucrative Ligue 1 for the first time. But the story doesn’t exactly end there.

You’d think after leading such a small club into the top league that Michel Estevan’s job would be safe for life. Well no. Former president Jean Marc Conrad was relieved of his duties in June after proposing a new contract to Estevan that the club simply couldnt afford.

Salerno and Perrot (Photo Jean-Pierre LUPI)

In step new majority shareholders, Francois Perrot and Marcel Salerno who promptly fired Estevan. After weeks of negotiations where even the players thought a new manager was imminent, the decision was reversed and Estevan will lead the club he built into Ligue 1. The two new chairman probably made the most unpopular first move possible, a decision which seems baffling but at least they changed their minds.

Both have invested a lot of money just to get Arles-Avignon to the division itself. Arles had the smallest budget of all the teams in Ligue 2 last year yet still got promoted. Promotion on €5.2 million is some feat.

The club probably weren’t expecting it, and the cost to bring the facilities at the club will take its toll. For example, a Ligue 1 requirement is for all grounds to have a capacity of 17,000 or more. The current ground holds at maximum 9,000 and work is under way to get the ground ready in time. Add floodlighting, press boxes, commentary boxes etc, and it’s clear that Arles have a massive task on their hands to even be ready for their first home game against Lens on August 14th.

So what are Arles-Avignon’s chances of staying Ligue 1? Without seeming harsh, remote. Most of the current players are Ligue 2 quality at best. Estevan has continued his reputation of bringing so-called footballing mercnaries by signing the notorious Yann Kermorgant. For those of you unfamiliar, he was the person who chipped a penalty for Leicester last season in the play-offs which sent them out. He’s also signed former Fulham player Hameur Bouazza, a player he will be familiar with since Estevan is of French-Algerian nationality. From Blackpool of all places.

Also interestingly, the man at the centre of the French national football scandal, fitness coach Robert Duverne has joined the club. If that doesn’t cement your reputation as a club of rebels then I don’t know what does.

Little is known of this enigmatic club from the South of France. Sure they may have a turbulent time staying in the top division but for a club of this size to even make it there, is somewhat remarkable.

Note: Credit to Martin Michelot for information on Arles-Avignon. Check out his fantastic blog about Ligue 1.