What makes Bordeaux so attractive?
Is it the distinctive navy jersey with the white chevron? Is it the glistening Matmut Atlantique, bright and airy amidst a city of palatial cool?
Or is it the legacy of Yoann Gourcuff, Zinedine Zidane and Johan Micoud, all of whom forged their careers with Les Girondins before marvelling elsewhere?
It’s probably all three, but with reports now suggesting that Thierry Henry is about to succeed Gus Poyet as manager, neutrals will have another reason to admire this achingly chic club.
A brave move
It’s a brave move from the Frenchman, who began this season being linked with the Aston Villa job after leaving a multi-million-pound role with Sky Sports. Should he be appointed, he inherits a big club with some even bigger problems.
Since winning the title under Laurent Blanc nine years ago, Bordeaux have failed to finish inside the Champions League places.
This summer, they sold their best player to Barcelona, leaving a lacklustre mix of prospects and journeymen behind. Other than the departing Malcolm and Younousse Sankhare, no player made it into double figures for goals or assists last season.
The squad is unhappy, too, having been alienated over the treatment of the under-fire Poyet. The Uruguayan is likely to resign after protesting at the sale of striker Gaetan Laborde to Montpellier, a move that he says was completed without his foreknowledge.
After Poyet was suspended for his reaction to the sale, Bordeaux’s players refused to train, lending their support before being assuaged only after several hours of talks with the club hierarchy.
The risk isn’t all Henry’s, though. His playing career might be untouchable, but the 41-year-old has precious little experience in a managerial role.
A short stint as Roberto Martinez’s forwards coach at Belgium, however, suggests that his relentless desire for self-improvement might have carried across to the other side of the white line.
“He helps me so much with everything in the game,” admitted Romelu Lukaku in an interview with The Players’ Tribune earlier this year. “My awareness, my skills, my shooting, my control in front of goal…”. The list goes on.
If Henry can extrapolate that insatiable perfectionists’ streak to the whole squad, then Bordeaux might have a chance of rescuing their season after successive losses to Toulouse and Strasbourg.
Perennial qualifiers for the Europa League, a knockout tie against Gent gives them a winnable route into the competition’s group stage.
Henry’s blue-chip arrival, coupled with an extended run to the knockout stages, could provide the impetus that the club so badly needs.
As a manager, Henry is a total unknown. He has expressed no preference in terms of style or formation, largely keeping his opinions to himself during a careful three years as a pundit.
His is a fascinating appointment because nobody knows quite what to expect.
After years of starring for both Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola, however, Bordeaux fans will be expecting him to favour an enterprising and fluid style. Having endured Poyet’s stodgy-but-effective management, they’ll welcome the return of attacking football on the Atlantic Coast.
For Henry, the stakes could not be higher. Fail here, and any doubts about his suitability for management might congeal into a lasting impression. Succeed, however, and he could tread the same path that led Zinedine Zidane to Champions League glory.
If one living legend of French football can do it, why can’t another?
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