Stade Français have christened the renovated Jean-Bouin Stadium with a host of victories that have seen them rise to the summit of the Top 14 table
THESE ARE good times to be a Stade Français fan. Currently level on points with Clermont at the summit of the Top 14 table, the Parisian outfit have claimed some notable scalps this season, including home and away victories against reigning champions Toulon.
The only Top 14 club undefeated at home this season, Stade have turned the renovated Jean-Bouin Stadium into something of a fortress and repaid the faith of their young and ambitious president, the 47-year-old Thomas Savare.
Top 14 presidents receive a lot of bad press on both sides of the Channel. Most of it is undeserved. Of course they have egos and ambitions but so would anyone who has invested millions of their own money into a sporting enterprise.
Savare is among the less flamboyant Top 14 presidents but he has much about which to be proud. Stade Français were arguably the predominant French club domestically in the first decade of the millennium winning four Top 14 titles. But the club was plunged into a financial crisis in the summer of 2011 when the then president Max Guazzini was a victim of a bad business deal, forcing him to announce that the club needed €6.6m to survive.
The DNACG, French rugby’s financial watchdog, got involved and only Savare’s rescue package staved off Stade’s expulsion from the Top 14 and likely bankruptcy.
Savare’s family business is Oberthur Technologies, a security solutions company that began life in 1842 manufacturing bank notes and is now the 53rd wealthiest company in France with a €900m revenue. Thomas succeeded his father, Jean-Pierre, at the helm in 2008.
Nearly four years after Savare intervened to save Stade Français they are once more a force to be reckoned with. Attendances have risen, thanks to their attractive new stadium that can hold 20,000, and sponsors are clamouring to be associated once more with the club that likes to think of itself as the capital’s most glamorous.
But Stade’s position is not quite as rosy as their shirts. When Thomas Savare, like his father a passionate rugby fan, decided to rescue Stade Français it was against the wishes of his two sisters. Their discontent has deepened as their brother’s initial investment has swelled to an estimated €30m.
Matters came to a head 12 months ago when the sisters were “evicted” from Oberthur’s management board, a move for which they are currently seeking redress at a commercial tribunal. Last month their lawyer claimed that Oberthur’s investment in Stade Français was “ruinous and too risky.” Even the patriarch of the family, Jean-Pierre, has allegedly expressed privately his “strong concern” at the amount of the money swallowed up by Stade Français since 2011 although he continues to support his son publicly.
The sisters can point to the €8m of losses suffered by Stade Français in the last 18 months but their brother would no doubt retort that the club is moving out of the red, what with the rise in attendances, the TV rights money and – assuming Stade don’t suffer a collapse in form in the next four months – qualification for next season’s Champions Cup.
Certainly Savare can’t be accused of throwing money to the wind. Last summer Stade Français recruited modestly, bringing in just five new players of whom none could be called superstars and preferring to trust in a squad that has a distinctly French flavour to it. Recently there has been talk of Will Genia signing for Stade after the World Cup but the Wallaby scrum-half is believed to have penned a pre-contract agreement with Bath, and Savare has allegedly told Genia he’ll won’t pay the hefty sum for breaking that contract; if he wants to come to Paris he’ll have to reimburse Bath out of his own pocket.
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That’s Savare for you. He’s a hard-nosed businessman, someone who served his apprentice in a New York investment bank in the 1990s. His munificence is not to be manipulated. And like all businessmen he expects a return on his investment. When Stade Français lost to Wasps in last season’s Champions Cup play-off, Savare was bitterly disappointed, questioning the players’ mental strength and accusing them of complacency. Yet the defeat made him even more determined, as he told one reporter who asked if he regretted rescuing Stade Français. “It’s an investment of passion,” he said. “And even if it’s proved more difficult than I’d anticipated at first, the passion is still there.”
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