Flashback : Paul Le Guen
Before the game between Stade Rennes and Paris Saint-Germain, as part of the Ligue 1 Championship’s 22nd match day, Stade Rennais Online looks back at the Rennes career of a personality common to both clubs: Paul Le Guen.
At the start of the 1998-1999 season, with the arrival of Paul Le Guen to managedthe club, the SRFC and François Pinault splashed the cash and invested over 80 million francs (or about 12 million euros) on the transfer market during the summer transfer window. Rennes signed former Paris players Christophe Revault and Édouard Cissé, David Sommeil, Jean-Luc Dogon, Dominique Arribagé, Cédric Bardon, Shabani Nonda, Ronan Salaün and showed all its ambition. A recruitment that soon proved ambitious, and for which much praise has to be heaped on Jean-Michel Moutier, a very important man in all transactions thanks to his many contacts.
A successful apprenticeship
The man who had spent most of his successful playing career at Paris Saint-Germain started his new career as a coach only a few weeks after hanging his boots as a player. The Finistere-man followed Guy David and signed a five years contract with the Breton club. From the start of the league, he decided to build his squad around players just recovering from a chaotic season, and complete it with new elements familiar to the precarious realities of the football worlds. The mood was rarely delirious in the dressing room after the first victories, but the team-building was soon showing a success. Under Le Guen’s control, Stade Rennes managed a magnificent and unexpected beginning of the season. Sure of his choices, Paul Le Guen was quick to trust Édouard Cissé at midfield, and leave the former captain Laurent Viaud on the bench. “We managed to win thanks to a lot of envy and concentration”, the Finisterian coach would rejoice after a success against Lorient (1-0). This was a perfect assessment of the 1998-1999’s SRFC collective performances: nothing genial, but a constant abnegation and an unfailing solidarity.
The « Rouge et Noir » were soon hanging to the top teams. Paul Le Guen showed common sense and humility however. Despite the good start to the season by his team, the experience Breton manager knew his team was in construction and refused to get carried away: “We are getting good results because of the conquering attitude of the players, who are rewarded for all their effort”. Always balanced in his analysis, Paul Le Guen would keep on repeating all over his mandate that the most important is continuity, a leitmotiv for the young Finisterian manager. With half of the season played, the club from the Breton capital was causing the upset by reaching the third palce in the rankings, showing solid, more than brilliant. Indeed, the team found most of its force and results in its solidity. An iron-cast defence in the good days (with Revault, Sommeil, Arribagé, Rossi and Réveillère), an perfect ability to play the counter-attack with Nonda and Bardon upfront, and a midfield rather hard-working and ball-recovering than creating and inventing fine play. Building on this success, Paul Le Guen also offered their professional debuts to several players from the Academy : Anthony Réveillère, Fabrice Fernandes, Julien Escudé, Cyril Yapi – and later Jean-Félix Dorothée, Gaël Danic and Makhtar N’Diaye notably.
A taste of Europe
“Le Guen ? He’s all waffle” some Rennes fans regretted at the time. The Rennes manager wasn’t a man of many words, he knew the implications of his words and fought against any sort of self-sufficiency. This fan of Tri-Yann is one to gather men similar to him. A character strong in his certainties, with a clear idea in his mind at the time of European regions: “To reinforce, if possible, the Breton identity at the Stade Rennais”, building around the future Jocelyn Gourvennec, Stéphane Guivarc’h or Nicolas Ouédec. A time of politically correct. The much awaited change had finally arrived, with a new management teams receiving financial support from François Pinault. A group of men sharing solid Rennes roots, who seemed to have found the ideal young manager in Paul Le Guen. Behind an apparent shyness, the Breton also knew how to be respected, and to remind courteously but firmly that all players have to accept the internal competition. Those who complain of spending too much time on the touchline are invited by the Breton coach to come and discuss a possible departure. The message was clear, the man from Pencran was eager to keep the good dynamic within his team. With him, the SRFC managed its best season in years (fifth) and qualified for the UEFA Intertoto Cup after long-lived hopes of a direct European cup qualification. Christian Gourcuff  said about him: “Paul Le Guen is a Breton in his behaviour. He could perfectly be a caricature of a Breton. He is a composed coach who is confident in his ideas”. And the season started in the best of ways, when Rennes reached the final of the Intertoto Cup. The Breton club was in high spirits for weeks before meeting Zinedine Zidane’s Juventus Turin. Rennes was from from ridiculous, but lost over the two games (0-2 in Cesena, 2-2 in Rennes). Le Guen was at the peak of his popularity in Brittany. Unfortunately for him, Rennes failed to perform as well in the League. Recruits such as El Hadji Diouf or Franck Gava couldn’t reach their full potential… Rennes sought progressively but surely, and the season would turn to be a disaster for the club. Paul Le Guen’s team should finally wait until the last game week before saving their place in the top flight through a victory against Metz (2-0) with goals by Yoann Bigné and Christophe Le Roux. Stade Rennes ended the season in 13th position, only a point clear from the relegation.
Gone in the confusion
During the 2000/2001 season, for its centenary, Stade Rennes had decided to give it large and splash the cash during the summer transfer window, purchasing a Brazilian forward (recruited from a video tape), Severino Lucas (140 million francs) and another from Argentina, Mario Hector Turdo (80 million francs). On that season however, it was Cyril Chapuis (Transferred from Niort for 7 million francs) who led the Rennes attack (the club’s best goal scorer with 9 goals). Soon in difficulty in the league, the club from the Breton capital’s club was 15th with half of the season gone, with only one point advantage over the first club in the danger zone, the Olympique de Marseille. At this time, rumours were spreading that Paul Le Guen’s position was in jeopardy. For the first game in the return phase, Rennes won for the first time in their history at the Parc des Princes against Paris and earned some serenity on a pitch that was definitely remaining Le Guen’s garden. A sign of destiny as Le Guen’s time in Rennes was nearing to an end. Despite the victory, the future of Paul Le Guen remained in question: “Personally, I’ll go to training tomorrow, but I don’t know anything. I want to continue, I enjoy coaching, but if I have to leave, I will leave. I’m not complaining. When I became a manager, I knew what to expect”, the Finisterian declared the day after his prestigious victory.
François Pinault and Pierre Blayau ended up giving in under the pressure and renounced to fire the Rennes coach. The Breton club would manage much better performances during the return phase, but lost ot Amiens in the Coupe de France’s Round of 32. At the return to training at La Piverdière, the atmosphere was obnoxious. The Rennes supporter had not accepted the defeat and came in big numbers to express it. After a warm-up jogging, the players were welcomed to the pitch by a concert of boos, an event rare enough in Rennes to be signalled, with the faux-pas in Amien seemingly the defeat too much. In the turmoil, young Breton Gaël Danic was awarded his first start in D1 during the 27th game week victory against Lens (2-1), delivering an assist on Philippe Delaye’s first goal. Rennes lost all hopes to reach the European positions however, after yet another defeat at the Stade de la Route de Lorient, against the rival and future France champion, Nantes (0-2).
Under the eyes of François Pinault, the club’s main shareholder, Stade Rennes realised on that night that they were not fighting in the same category than their neighbour. One was playing for the title, the other was a mid-table team targeting Europe without having the required quality. This 2000-2001 team was in particular very weak in attack, with Bardon sulking on the bench, Lucas giving his best but failing to make an impression and Chapuis looking increasingly tired as the end of the season approached. Thes situation was soon turning darker and darker. Fortunately, Rennes won the first time in their history in D1 against Guingamp at the Roudourou (6-1). The occasions were rare, in which Paul Le Guen’s men entered a game with such “fighting spirit” and desire to lead the game. Positioned very high on the pitch from kick-off, Rennes did not give Guingamp a chance to organise themselves and displayed a football made of quick and technical passing. With eight wins away from home, Rennes beat the club’s record in that area, and went to win their first ever away victory at Auxerre against AJA too (1-0, goal by Lucas). Paul Le Guen finished his term as a Rennes coach with a defeat against Lyon (3-4) at the Stade de la Route de Lorient. Sixth in the final standings, Rennes would play the Intertoto Cup.
As for Paul Le Guen, in permanent conflict with his management (both parts kept on attributing the responsibility for the poor recruitment campaigns to one other), he left the Breton club after three years in which he failed to win any trophy. He then took a year off in order to spend time with his family and friends. He would then bounce back in the Rhône, where he went on to win several national titles with the Olympique Lyonnais.
Stade Rennais 1998-2001
102 matches : 44 victories, 20 draws and 38 defeats.
Archives from Ouest France
« Le Stade rennais, fleuron du football breton » de Claude Loire, Ed. Apogée.
Photo : mustapha_ennaimi / Flickr
 Who would follow him at the helm of Stade Rennes with very little success.