Owner Hans-Peter Wild is splashing the cash in a bid for future French glory, writes James Harrington
Stade Francais are out-spending Top 14 rivals in the transfer market
First came multi-millionaire Mourad Boudjellal, then billionaires Mohed Altrad and Jacky Lorenzetti. Now, another mega-rich owner has turned Top 14 spending on its head: Stade Français’ Capri-Sun king Hans-Peter Wild.
Dr Wild bought the Parisian club in May 2017, after the failed merger with Racing 92. Almost exactly a year later, what the club’s marketeers brand a r(e)volution has begun.
Recruitment has long been top of Stade’s to-do list. “We need top players,” Wild told Le Figaro‘s Sport24. “And we’ll get some. We bear the name of the French capital and the responsibility to be worthy of that name. The objective is to be French champions in three years… returning Stade Français to its past glories.”
That is not just talk. Over three years, Wild has pledged to put €30 million of his money where his mouth is. His willingness to spend for success is beyond anything even the Top 14 has seen. And, it turns out, pegging existing Stade stars – including Jules Plisson, Djibril Camara, Sekou Macalou, Jonathan Danty, Paul Gabrillagues, Arthur Coville and Alexandre Flanquart – to long-term contracts early on in the season just gone was merely a quiet-yet-firm statement of intent.
Only recently, with a mostly French backbone secure, has the scale of Stade’s ambition been revealed. They spent €700,000 to steer Yoann Maestri away from his pre-contract with La Rochelle, and have dug deeper still – possibly up to €800,000 worth of deep, in fact – to get Gaël Fickou out of the final year of his Toulouse deal. That figure had even Racing boss Lorenzetti balking. But not Wild, who appears not to negotiate beyond asking “how much?” and slapping down a big pile of cash.
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That’s not a statement. It’s yelling from the rooftops. And it’s not the end. Argentinian fly-half Nicolas Sanchez and London Irish scrum half Piet Van Zyl have recently signed, while Stade are linked to Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira.
Word is the club are also prepared to pay Bordeaux more than €1 million for scrum-half Baptiste Serin, who has a year left on his contract. Bègles’ boss Laurent Marti may be reluctant to part with his star player, but risks losing him for nothing if he hesitates for long. Once a player is in the the final year of his contract, he’s fair game for predatory clubs.
Wild is not the first Top 14 boss to play the transfer market. In 2010, Racing paid Bayonne more than €500,000 for the signature of a young Benjamin Fall.
But although he’s not the first, Wild is accelerating the Top 14’s charge down the football transfer rabbit hole. Last year, Altrad forked out €1 million to take Louis Picamoles to Montpellier after a year in the Premiership with Northampton. Earlier this year, Altrad also paid a reported €1.5 million to release the ‘retired’ Johan Goosen from his Racing deal.
Only Montpellier and Racing 92 can keep up with the breakneck financial pace Wild is setting – and those two sides are in the Top 14 semi-finals, having finished first and second in the regular season. Even Toulon, once the modern spiritual home of rugby Galacticos, have fallen by the wayside.
After failing to reach the last four for the first time since 2011, Toulon president and the league’s comic-book baddie Boudjellal repeated a mantra he had first hinted at last season: “The model I built and which was copied a lot, died tonight.
“We have to move on. We’ll see if the people of Toulon adhere to a new model. We’re going to have to give Toulon back to the people of Toulon.”
Roughly translated, it’s a repeat of a promise he first made in March 2017, to go back to basics – via the academy – and build a home-grown side capable of challenging for the title. But then, as now, under the positive-sounding ‘Made in France’ promise it was close to an admission of defeat.
The inconvenient truth is Toulon cannot keep up with the spending power of the Altrads, Lorenzettis and Wilds of the Top 14. Nor will they be the only club trailing in the wake of these mega-money sides. What Boudjellal did in the ProD2 more than a decade ago – what Steve Lansdown did with Bristol last season – is being inflated in France to levels beyond the reach of all but the richest rugby playboys.
Before anyone gets over-dramatic, this won’t kill rugby. It won’t kill the Top 14. But we’d all better be prepared for a new French rugby order.