Four clubs competed for the title this season. Least serious was Olympique Marseille. The club had policy different than any other in France: not exactly building a strong squad, but buying every year stars. High rotation more or less kept Marseille among the favourites, but did not make them real contender or memorable. Four new players arrived before the start of the season – the French national team striker Marc Berdoll from 1. FC Saarbrucken (West Germany), the midfielder Anders Linderoth from Sweden, another forward, Michel N’Gom, with dual citizenship – French and Senegalese, and rather anonymous Spanish midfielder Christian Fernandez. Not very impressive bunch, but still consistent with Marseille’s habits. With Tresor, Bracci, Emon, Beretta, and Zvunka, they had, at least on paper, enough class. On the field it was a bit different – most of the names were already just names: aging, declining, no longer a big threat. Marseille was good enough to stay among the best clubs, but at the lower end. 47 points, 70 goals scored, 41 received, 20 wins… stable 4th – 3 points above Bastia, 3 points bellow bronze medals.
Standing: Tresor, V. Zvunka, Bracci, Baulier, Migeon, Fernandez.
The other three clubs were entangled in the real battle for the title. Three point separated champions from bronze medalists. Racing Strasbourg finished 3rd with 50 points. The year before Strasbourg was in Second Division – a big surprise to see them competing for the title and great success for the club.
Quietly, Strasbourg assembled good team – Dropsy and Specht were national team material, Novi, Gemmrich, Piasecki, and Dugueperoux were respected solid players, the Austrian Heinz Schilcher provided the ‘magic touch’ every former Ajax player brought to their new club. Raymond Domenech was added for the season. The future great coach Ivica Osim came back to Starsbourg for his last season as a player. The Yugoslavian was already 36 years old and not a starter anymore, but very likely he contributed with brain – Strasbourg had young coach, also 36, who just arrived from Xamax (Switzerland). An enigmatic name – Gilbert Gress. Once upon a time he refused to cut his hair and was left out of the going to World Cup finals French national team. The year was 1966 and Gress was the star of Strasbourg. But he played his best years in West Germany, for Stuttgart, and hardly ever was called to play for France. He ended his career in Switzerland, doubling as player-coach of Xamax. He came back to his original club in 1977 – effectively, his first year as a coach. Young, ambitious, with fresh ideas, without the burden of old habits, and very likely helped by Osim in tactical scheming. Strasbourg soared at once, achieving a rare success for newcomer to the league.
Familiar name got the silver medals – Nantes. Stable and strong during the decade, perhaps the best one for the club, Nantes was constant contender. No exception this season – they lost the title by a point. Disappointment perhaps, but not a big one – they were strong, may be a bit unlucky, but consistent and there was no trouble coming. Nantes was the only club in the league with really strong defense – they permitted 26 goals in their net, the single club achieving less than a goal per game average. Scoring was not their forte, though… typical for defensive minded teams and perhaps the reason they lost the title in the attacking French league. Nantes scored 60 goals – not bad, not exactly ‘catenaccio’, yet, the champions cored 19 goals more and 7 other clubs scored more goals than Nantes. Paris SG, ending at 11th place, scored 75. Tied defense perhaps was wrong, surely not enough, but Nantes was not to be dismissed – they were to try again the next season for sure.
The secret of Nantes was its transfer policy – they did not wait until their starters retired as Lyon; did not bet on few new stars every season to keep them afloat like Marseille; did not carefully changing a single player as Saint Etienne. Nantes acted boldly, not afraid to reshape the squad, discard still strong stars and include promising youngsters. Yes, Henry Michel, Hugo Bargas, Bertrand-Demasne were still the skeleton of the team as they were five years ago, but meantime time others established themselves so smoothly, nobody even noticed when – Bossis, Amisse, Rio. Rampillon, Baronchelli, Osman, Pecout were strong and very likely the next to go, replaced by the likes of Van Straelen and Sahnoun. Transition was so smooth it did not look like transition at all – the squad above was technically from 1976-77. Almost the same team played in 1977-78 – minus Triantafilos. Robert Gadocha is missing on the picture, rather symbolically – like Triantafilos, the Polish star was getting old and 1977-78 was his last season with the club. Nantes was not obsessed with the past at all – Gadocha was more or less relegated to second fiddle and young intriguing player was inserted in the starting eleven: Oscar Muller. Twenty years old midfielder, born in Argentina, but in Nantes since 1974. The youth system of the club, that is. Muller was – and is – listed as Argentine, but he also acquired French citizenship and played for the youth national teams of France. The future was secured – Gadocha was almost out, Michel and Bargas had numbered days, but no problem – there were Bossis, Rio, Amisse, Muller, a new skeleton already existed.
The title was won by a single point by both likely and unlikely club – AS Monaco. Chameleon club, Monaco – it was impossible to say how they will perform. Hardly favourites, yet, they were already twice champions. But Monaco was also capable of sudden failures – only two years ago they were in the second division. Back then Monaco had a team somewhat too strong for second level. Now they had a team not exactly expected to win a title. There was no telling how Monaco would perform. Somehow they fancied to be strong in 1977-78, still surprising performance by essentially the same players who played second league football almost yesterday.
An unusual club – representing France and another country in the same time. Of course, Monaco is just a city-state and there was no way for so small place to have a league. Monaco still had no national team and does not participate in tournaments for countries. It has only the club AS Monaco and when strong, represents France. Amusing in a way and belonging to this small category of clubs playing in the championships of counties different from their own. Given the financial reputation of the principality, AS Monaco should have been rich club, employing stars and constantly strong as a result – alas, it was not the case and hard to tell why. There was inconsistency – sometimes the club was better financed and soared, sometimes it was neglected and immediately went down. Formula 1 racing was clearly more important than football in the golden city. Things were fine this year, however – Monaco suddenly played well, especially at away games. They scored a lot, ending with the best seasonal record of 79 goals. Defense did not interest them – 46 times the ball ended in their net – but the attacking style was very sufficient when visiting. May be Monaco was underestimated by the other clubs, but if so, they paid heavy price – Monaco collected point after point and without been dominant, grabbed the title. Their third. Back in the 1970s three titles was quite a lot, especially in France, never monopolized by two or three clubs.
The heroes of 1977-78 were mostly home heroes – not a bad squad, yet, hardly a special one, and clearly not ‘dynastic’. They deserve another picture largely because it was not team able to stay on top.
Strange champions… the big star was of course Delio Onnis, the great Argentine goalscorer, who never disappointed. Another striker was solid national team choice, who went to play at the 1978 World Cup – Dalger. The captain Petit was also included in the French national team now and then. The young goalkeeper Ettori was rising, soon to become the preferred goalie of France. So far, he was making enough impact – he edged the experienced Chauveau from the starting eleven. Two more foreigners may be provided class, but were not great names – both were mild curiosities, though. Heriberto Correa, experienced 28-years old defender with dual citizenship – Argentina and Paraguay. Hardly known, not interesting for the Argentinian national team coach, but good enough for Monaco. At least this season, for Correa did not last all that long with the club. The other was also with dual citizenship – Raul Nogues, 25-years old forward, completing the free scoring striking line. Because of his name, normally he is thought French – in passing, for Nogues was not exactly famous, especially outside France. He is always listed as Argentine in statistics. Nogues came to France in 1972 and stayed. An Argentine, but not quite – a closer look at squad info (and only there) reveals that he played for youth national teams of France. So he was naturalized, which explains why Monaco featured three foreigners in their first eleven when rules permitted only two. Anyway, the strong players of the champions finish with him – the rest was rather run of the mill. Some better, some worse, some somewhat promissing, some suspect. Monaco was disjointed team of two very different groups not really complimenting each other. It was not a squad able to stay on top, unless getting about five stronger players. Yet, it was not a typical ‘one time wonder’ either – they were entirely unpredictable. Onnis alone was capable of destroying any team. Weak defense made not only winning suspect, but staying in first division. Impossible to tell what this team could do. May be a bit lucky champions, but champions.