While they're sailing in Europe, on the home front Toulouse are off the pace and affairs have not been helped by a power struggle behind the scenes
There’s not much Christmas spirit in Toulouse right now. In fact the atmosphere in the Pink City is what coach Guy Noves recently called ‘Nauséabond’. Imagine a rotten chunk of Roquefort and you’ll get the idea.
So what’s going on at the most successful club in European history? It’s all about power, more specifically who will succeed René Bouscatel as president of Toulouse when he steps down in 2017. There’s a fascinating sub-plot as well, but more of that later. First to the presidency and the succession of Bouscatel, president of Toulouse since 1992 and arguably the most powerful figure in the club’s history.
On one side is a faction led by Eugène Passerat, until Tuesday of this week the president of Société Anonyme Sportive Professionnelle (SASP), an organisation comprised of the Toulouse Rugby Association & the Friends of Stade Ernest-Wallon.
Passerat resigned at an AGM on Tuesday, 24 hours after lodging a formal legal complaint of an ‘abuse of power’ by unnamed persons ‘at the heart of the club’.
Passerat (who was succeeded by Hervé Lecomte, a stalwart of the Toulouse back-row throughout the 1980s) has many supporters, and they are ranged against the Lacroix brothers – Michel and Didier – in what has become an increasingly bitter war of succession.
Since 1994 Didier Lacroix and Franck Belot, both former Toulouse players, have run the club’s sponsorship through their company, ‘A la Une’. Thanks to their business savvy Toulouse have expanded their number of sponsors over the last 20 years from 40 to 300, bringing the club a turnover of around €12m.
But they haven’t done this without making enemies, and there are those within the Toulouse club who see Belot and the Lacroix brothers as wielding too much power and influence – particularly over Rene Bouscatel who, according to an article in Figaro earlier this week is “campaigning for Didier Lacroix to succeed him”.
What’s so odd about that? Well, up until recently Bouscatel was a “fervent supporter” of Guy Noves, believing that the Toulouse coach would make an ideal president. On the face of it, the transition would be seamless; for more than 20 years Noves has been in charge of playing matters while Bouscatel has taken care of administration and business. As Figaro notes, “it remains to be seen what pushed Rene Bouscatel…to change camp”.
Did Eugène Passerat file an official complaint in an attempt to discover the reason? In an interview with a French radio station on Monday Passerat’s lawyer said that a “conflict of interest has existed for years resulting in the loss to Stade [Toulouse] of considerable sums”.
Bouscatel’s change of allegiance has created friction between himself and Noves. When the latter criticised his president for dragging out the contract negotiations with Thierry Dusautoir and Patrick Nyanga, back came the riposte that Vincent Clerc’s new contract was swiftly agreed. Clerc, as well as being Toulouse’s international winger, is also Noves’ son-in-law.
And that relationship brings us to the saga’s sub-plot. Clerc, along with Toulouse flanker Grégory Lamboley, owns a marketing and hospitality company called ‘Team One’, which for the last two years has run the commercial affairs of the Castres club. As Figaro says, “with Noves president, Didier Lacroix would almost certainly lose his contract” to the company run by the new president’s son-in-law.
In response to the article in Tuesday’s Figaro, Team One issued a fierce statement in which they rejected the claim that they had been manoeuvring to usurp Lacroix’s company. Denouncing the allegations, Team One said they had been unwittingly dragged into a “power struggle”.
At the end of Tuesday night’s AGM new SASP president Hervé Lecomte declared that his election signalled a “desire for peace” within the club. It would appear a Christmas truce has been called, but it would take a brave man to bet against fresh fighting flaring up in the new year.