First Division. A two-team duel for the title, one outsider, and more dramatic battle for escaping relegation, involving almost half the league.
Bastia was the outsider – last with 20 points, only 4 of them acquired on the road and the only team without away win. It is rather shocking to see the Polish national goalkeeper Mlynarczyk going down: he played at the 1986 World Cup and is mostly remembered for winning the European Champions Cup – but that happened later and with another club.
Strasbourg – 19th with 31 points and relegated. This may have been direct result from faulty selection policy – Bulgarian Zhelyazkov and Czechoslovakian Knapp were the imports and they old and far gone , pale shadows of their former selves.
Nancy – 18th with 33 points. Although coached by now legendary Wenger, they lost the battle for survival. However, they were not relegated yet – they still had to play against Mulhouse in the promotion/relegation play-off. This time they won and kept first division place.
Le Havre – 17th with 33 points. Lucky to survive on better goal-difference.
Toulon – 16th with 33 points. Also lucky, thanks to better goal-difference. Now Emon was coached by his former national team co-player Dalger. Meaning, Emon was too old for inspired play and may be the same applied to the Yugoslav second-string star Cukrov.
Sochaux – 15th with 34 points. Their strong period was evidently over – now the main concern was not how to play in the European tournaments, but to avoid relegation.
Brest – 14th with 34 points. Vladimir Petrovic was playing here after his English misadventure – the gentle and more forgiving French football was closer to his technical style, but he was no longer first-rate star. Enough for modest Brest, though.
Rennes – 13th with 34 points. Traditionally unpredictable and wildly fluctuating team, now they on the lower end.
Olympique Marseille – 12th with 34 points. Still in the darkness, but they managed to come back from Second Division and, for the moment, achieved their most urgently important goal: to keep themselves in the top division. Still a poor squad – the best players were the two imports: the great Cameroonian goalkeeper Bell and the Dane Brylle, who somewhat never became a great star and reached his peak a few years back as well. Really, Marseille had to start building entire new team if wanting to return to leading position.
Like Toulon, Le Havre, Brest, Laval was quite happy to keep a top-league place – 11th with 35 points. Not bad finish by their modest standards.
Lille – 10th with 36 points. Typical mid-table club, so nothing new here even if they were mostly concerned with escaping relegation this season. Traditionally, Yugoslavs were heavily imported by French clubs and there was no surprise Lille had two: Primorac and Savic. Oldish, but still good enough.
Monaco – 9th with 37 points. Given the squad, rather disappointing season. But this was France – rarely a club had well-balanced squad and ups and downs were frequent. Monaco traditionally was up-and-down club, so it was a down season. Hardly unusual… then again, one expects more from a bunch like Amoros, Bellone, Bravo, Stojkovic, Genghini, Ettori, and Fofana.
Nice – 8th with 39 points, Their final position suggests a beginning of recovery to their former strong presence, but such conclusion would be misguided: given the relative mediocrity of the current squad, it was more of a chancy strong season.
Auxerre – 7th with 41 points. Perhaps the sounder team in the league, continuing to solidify its presence. Still depending on Polish talent – Janas – and producing new hopefuls like Basile Boli.
Metz – 6th with 42 points. Unassuming squad, led by Didier Six, but perhaps better balanced than most.
Lens – 5th with 43 points. Top row from left: Marx, Arghirudis, Mattelin, Leclerq, Sowinski, Rousseaux. Middle row: Lea, Gillot, Dubois, Warlop, Dewilder, Makengo, Krawczyk, Delache. Sitting: Huard, Pagal, Catalano, Carreno, Lerat, Xuereb, Ramos, Denizart, El Ouard, Gardie. Like Rennes, inconsistency was the trademark of Lens, so this season they were on their high end. As for the next – who knows.
Toulouse – 4th with 43 points. A pleasant surprise, but it looked like they were going to have strong stretch for a change. Perhaps it was quite a fall for Tarantini to end up playing for relative unknown, but at this point of his unlucky career it was even good that he was in a team going up. There was second Argentine as well – Marcico – and two prominent Frenchmen – Domergue and Stopyra. Bergeroo was still among the best French goalkeepers, so Toulouse had a solid skeleton already and with few additional players would be even stronger.
Bordeaux – 3rd with 49 points. Much stronger than most of the league, but almost a title contender – not all that strong to really run for the title. Still the most solid team in France, but getting old – Battiston, Dropsy, Giresse, Tigana, Lacombe and the imports Chalana and Reinders too. Thouvenel, Tusseau, and Girard were not exactly of the class of the already mentioned stars, so inevitable transitional period was going to be rough – if quick changes were not made. And radical reinforcement may not have been in the books for this team was still well-rounded and formidable when compared almost to everybody.
Nantes – 2nd with 53 points. Lost the race for title by three points, but there was nothing to worry about: they were the steadiest club in the country, consistently among the leaders for about 25 years already. Unlike any other French clubs, Nantes was capable of changing generations without tremors and weaknesses – transitions were smooth and the current version confirmed tradition: enough experienced stars – Amisse, Le Roux, Bertrand-Demanes, Halilhodzic, very strong new addition – Burruchaga, World champion with Argentina this very year, and young talent pushing up – Deschamps, Toure.
Raris SG triumphed 3 points clear of Nantes: 23 wins, 10 ties, 5 losses – 56 points and 66-33 goal-difference. Well, that was why Paris SG was created in the first place – to win titles, but so far there were none. At last they won their first – which was, of course, fantastic. The rest was not so great – Paris SG from its beginning employed risky philosophy: get big names and then again, and again. It did not work so far up to expectations: as a rule, they were getting famous veterans, no longer at their prime and also not lasting, because of the age factor. Fan base was built thanks to this policy and Paris SG managed to become one of the leading French clubs, but no more. Even cups were won only in the recent years. On the other hand, it may be argued that the policy was sound – precisely because the young club established itself among the strongest and became popular. Eventually, success too – first in the Cup competition, now in the championship. Nothing wrong with winning, right? But it was still a team for the moment, depending on few stars – in this vintage: Rocheteau, Bats, Fernandez, Susic, Couriol, Bibard. Most of them were getting old… There was no similar classy players to take the leading positions. Same old story – Paris SG had to get new veterans to keep the level, still not having real team to last on top for a period of time. To a large point the title was due to the talent of their Houllier, himself rapidly becoming famous. Really, Paris SG needed big mental change if wanting to be truly successful club.