A season to remember – How EA Guingamp have put themselves on the map

On Saturday afternoon, AS Monaco’s near eight hundred minute goal shutout ended, and as a result around forty minutes afterwards, the club’s unbeaten run of eight games was finished by the same assailant, namely En Avant de Guingamp.

The home side’s one-nil victory may have shocked many football fans across Europe this weekend, but within France fans, players and pundits alike have come to expect to unexpected from Jocelyn Gourvennec’s side.

 

With its around eight-thousand inhabitants making it roughly the same size as Kildare, the town of Guingamp is tiny in comparison with the mass urban métropoles that its football club’s Ligue 1 rivals such as PSG, Olympique de Marseille and Olympique Lyonnais hail from.

However, the club’s rise since Gourvennec was appointed manager at the Stade de Roudourou in 2010 has been nothing short of astronomic, with the man who is widely tipped to be the 2014-2015 manager of the season having taken his side from the National (France’s third-tier) to Ligue 1 in just three years and then incredibly winning the Coupe de France against their Breton rivals Rennes last season.

With the club’s dramatic rise to the highest level of French football remaining as an inspirational backdrop, Les Guingampais have this season continued to punch above their weight with success. The Breton side’s win over Monaco at the weekend hasn’t been their only shock result of the season.

As followers of the current Ligue 1 campaign will remember, Gourvennec’s side stunned PSG at home towards the end of last year, when in December they beat the French champions by a goal to nil. Guingamp have also exported their ability to shock onto the continental stage, progressing through from a Europa League group which included Fiorentina, PAOK and Dinamo Minsk, in second place.

The two-one away victory against PAOK in Greece, thanks to goals from Claudio Beauvue, seemed to epitomize the club’s season, with the Bretons rising above the cauldron-like atmosphere against all odds to be the only French side to progress through to the next round of the competition.

Despite elimination from the Coupe de la Ligue, the club’s defense of their Coupe de France title is also continuing in fine form, as a likely win today (Wednesday) away in Auvergne against amateur outfit Yzeure would send them through to the competition’s quarter-final.

There have also been low-points in this season’s campaign – one thinks to Guingamp’s seven-two hammering at home against Nice and their four-nil defeat against regional rivals Lorient, with the team on both those actions looking like dejected relegation battlers.

However, after both of these occasions the men from France’s Atlantic coast have bounced back with resilience, and this can be attributed to the character that Gourvennec has instilled in his squad’s ranks.

At just forty-two years of age, Gourvennec is relatively young in terms of football management, and what he has achieved so early in his career on the touchline at the Roudourou has been nothing short of incredible.

It’s no surprise that the head coach has an excellent understanding of the game, as he was a well-traveled midfielder in his own playing days, having played for Rennes, Nantes and Lorient, and notably playing under two of France’s most respected tacticians, Rolland Courbis at Olympique de Marseille and Montepellier, and under Paul Le Guen at Rennes.

When watching Guingamp what strikes you is the side’s determination to keep its disciplined 4-4-2 structure and it’s this organisational balance that has enabled them to bear fruit against on paper technically much stronger opposition.

Gourvennec’s emphasis on his side’s system helped him to direct tactical masterclasses against both PSG and Monaco, as in both games the opposition largely and obviously dominated possession, but the rigidity of both Guingamp’s defensive and midfield blocks of four in front of goal frustrated the opposition.

Swift counter attacks in both these matches then proved to be the undoing of the two visiting sides, with Guingamp’s offense proving to be lethally clinical in the opposition half of the park.

Although their ability to frustrate teams and hurt them with ‘smash and grab’ tactics has played a primordial role in their success, Guingamp’s abilty with growing confidence to hurt weaker Ligue 1 teams when they smell blood was perfectly demonstrated when Gourvennec’s side thrashed SM Caen by five goals to one in December to end a four match run of losses.

 

Asides from their tactical success, the club has also impressed in terms of its sensible, sustainable and most obviously effective recruitment since Gourvennec took up the reins at the club. At domestic level, the club has recruited promising talents from Ligue 2, who have become key players in the starting eleven.

Guingamp’s main attacking threat, Claudio Beauvue, who has played superbly the season, is one such example, as he was drafted into the squad in 2013 after impressing with Ligue 2 side Châteauroux. An athletic and powerful striker, Beauvue has netted eleven times for his side this season, scoring around forty percent of all of their goals in the current Ligue 1 campaign and more than proving his worth to the side.

On a continental level, former West Ham United and Denmark international Lars Jacobsen has brought valuable experience to the Guingamp back-line and his Danish compatriot Jonas Lössl has been outstanding in goal since his arrival from FC Midtjylland.

Lössl, like Beauvue, has stood out as an individual in a team that is most widely reputed for its collective performances, with the Dane making some incredible saves against Monaco at the weekend, as well as displaying what could well be the save of the season from a Zlatan Ibrahimović volley against PSG in December.

However, as always with Gourvennec’s style, balance has been of pivotal importance to his side, and this equilibrium is evident in the coach’s desire to not only make additions to his squad, but to keep a number of players in his group that began the journey to Ligue 1 with him when he took over from the now Arles-Avignon coach Victor Zvunka.

Thibaut Giresse, son of the former France international Alain Giresse, Dorian Lévêque, who scored the winner for his side on Saturday, and club captain Lionel Mathis are all players who have remained at the club since the current manager’s appointment.

With a top 10 finish more than likely, a tie in the last 16 of the Europa league against Dynamo Kiev to come and with the club having already recorded upsets against two of France’s most successful clubs, it would not be an exaggeration to describe the current campaign as a dream season for Guingamp.

However, it would also not be implausible to suggest that the club’s current success would not have been beyond their coach’s wildest dreams when he took over at the club, such is his drive and ambition.

It’s these qualities that could make him a very desirable candidate for bigger jobs in Europe in the future, and most likely a coach who we will hear a lot more about in seasons to come.

The Author

Brendán MacFarlane

I'm a massive French football enthusiast, having fallen in love with all aspects and levels of the sport in France whilst working for a year in the town of Niort. As a French studies student, I'm constantly following what's going on in the French football media and bringing stories to the English-speaking world.

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