Why are so many of the Stade Francais Top 14-winning squad set to leave the Parisian club?
There are times when one has to pinch oneself to remember that a little over 15 months ago Stade Francais beat Clermont to win the Top 14 title on a warm Parisian evening. The season that followed was a disaster for Stade and the 2016-17 campaign is only marginally better. The club are eighth in the table with four wins from nine matches but it is what’s happening off the field that is making the headlines.
Last week Raphael Lakafia announced he was off to Toulon at the end of the season and a couple of days later Geoffrey Doumayrou revealed he’d agreed terms with La Rochelle. Rabah Slimani has already committed himself to a three-year deal with Clermont starting in July, so three members of that Top 14-title winning team are on their way out of Stade. There could be more. Twelve players in total are in the final season of their contracts and Hugo Bonneval and Jeremy Sinzelle are both said to be talking to clubs (Toulon and La Rochelle, respectively, according to one French report).
There are even rumours that head coach Gonzalo Quesada, the man who masterminded their Top 14 triumph, is considering whether to activate the release clause in his contract that would allow him to leave in June. He has until December 31 to decide but according to RMC Sport, the Argentinian has been contacted recently by Bath, and there is also sure to be interest from one or two French clubs, aware of what he achieved in a short space of time.
Quesada was offered the job of head coach at Stade in 2013 and, as he told this column last year, he accepted despite advice to the contrary. “When I signed on at this club it was quite unstable with a lot of changes in the structures, the players,” he explained. “Some of my friends said, ‘Don’t go there, you’re too young, your career is going really well and you’ll blow it there’. But I knew it wasn’t that suicidal because I know the spirit of the club.”
Within two seasons Quesada had steered Stade to their first Top 14 title in eight years but even as the club celebrated the foundations on which the success was built started to loosen. Ten of the starting XV in the final were French, and at a time when the LNR are tightening the rules about French-qualified players rival clubs began casting covetous eyes at the Stade squad.
The financial problems of 2011 had forced Stade to rely more on developing home-grown talent, something which pleased Quesada. “I prefer to push our kids up (from the academy) rather than just grab any high-profile player who comes along,” he told this column.
The 2014-15 squad was built on a nucleus of talented young French players: Slimani (27), Lakafia (28), Doumayrou (27), Bonneval (25), Sinzelle (26), Jules Plisson (25), Remi Bonfils (28) Jonathan Danty (24), Alexandre Flanquart (27) and Djibril Camara (27).
Now three of them are leaving and more will surely follow. And there’s little Quesada can do to stop them, not when the club’s owner, Thomas Savare, is tightening his belt having invested €20m of his family’s money since buying the club in 2011. He did so against the wishes of his two sisters, but with the blessing of his father. However, a report in Monday’s Le Parisien newspaper alleged that the patriarch of the family has decided that it’s time they ended their investment.
Savare, whose family runs a security solutions company reputed to be worth €1.2billion, is one of the Top 14’s more cautious owners who has implemented a wage structure he refuses to break. Only last week he criticised the Montpellier president amid allegations he is offering exorbitant wages to lure players to the Mediterranean. “Mohed Altrad is actually destabilising the salary level in France,” he said.
One may admire Savare’s sentiments but what to some is integrity is to others a lack of intent to keep Stade competitive. “The feeling among the players is that the club is not ambitious enough,” a club insider told RMC Sport this week.
Le Parisien claims that Savare is ready to sell the club, and a “bank has even been approached in anticipation of a future deal”. Would it be an easy sell? Probably not. Attracting fans to the Stade Jean-Bouin – even after its stylish redesign – has never been easy and only 8,788 spectators watched them beat Lyon on Saturday.
When Mourad Boudjellal let it be known in the summer he was thinking of selling Toulon he was said to have been inundated with offers. But on his stretch of the Cote d’Azur rugby is king; in Paris indifference reigns and the club which sits in the shadow of the Parc des Princes faces a fight to avoid becoming the pauper of French rugby.
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