First Division. Dominant Monaco and 8 teams battling for survival. Typically, not a single team was well-rounded and exceptionally strong and looked like oldish players no longer needed in Italy were moving to France. A flock of good coaches, who were not yet at their prime. Talented new generation of players was also at hand and hailed as securing the bright future of French football, but the future would prove different, at least for awhile.
Le Havre – somewhat an outsider. Last with 27 points an relegated. The Czechoslovak striker Vizek was not enough.
Brest – 19th with 32 points. Modest Brest was unable to avoid relegation.
Niort – or Chamois Niortais – ended ahead of Brest on better goal-difference: 18th with 32 points. Perhaps the most anonymous squad in the league, they managed to avoid direct relegation, but eventually lost the promotion/relegation play-off against Caen and went down.
Lens – 17th with 33 points. Lucky to survive, but finished with the worst goal-difference in the championship: -22.
Nice – 16th with 33 points. Struggling to stay in the league, but the decline started quite a long time ago. Their former Yugoslav star Nenad Bjekovic was coaching them and one could say that when he arrived back in the 1970s, he had stronger teammates than Bravo had at the moment.
Paris SG – 15th with 34 points. Frankly, much more was expected by this squad coached by Houllier. Aging Ray Wilkins was perhaps the biggest name among well known stars – yet, the team just struggled to escape relegation.
Laval – nothing special, yet, they finished ahead of Paris SG, if only on better goal-difference: 14th with 34 points. Actually, neutral goal-difference: 38-38.
Toulouse – 13th with 35 points. Strongly dependent on bunch of aging stars – Rocheteau, Bergeroo, the 1978 World champion Tarantini, his fellow Argentine Marcico, Stopyra. Santini, part of the great 1970s St. Etienne squad, was coaching them. Well, they escaped relegation.
Cannes – 12th with 37 points. Not bad… for a modest team. Like most smallish clubs, they depended on few aging veterans: the Yugoslav duo Savic and Primorac and almost forgotten by now Emon.
Cannes deserves a second picture for this reason: sponsorship had its own demands, so the team had to actually promote the goods their sponsor peddled – in their case, home supplies. A question for the future, of course – would they be in the fridge, or burning on the stove, or just washed and dried?
Lille – 11th with 37 points. Rather typical mid-table performance.
Nantes – 10th with 39 points. Struggling for some time – decline is almost inevitable in football, but seemingly Nantes missed the moment to start rebuilding. Perhaps this season was the turning point: good foreign stars at hand: the Argentine Burruchaga, the Scot Johnston, and aging Belgian Vercauteren plus bright young talent – Deschamps, Desailly, Kombouare, but also remains from the past getting too long in the tooth: Bertrand-Demanes, Rio, Amisse.
Auxerre – 9th with 39 points. Was it another club this season would have been considered a disaster, but Auxerre and its fans were humble and kept solidly their feet on the ground. The most important thing was to play with heart and not get unreasonable expectations. 9th place? Nothing dramatic – most important was developing their own talent and there was plenty of it. Cantona was an interesting example of this philosophy: hailed as major talent and he proved his worth in time, but did not really made it in France – instead, became famous for his successful play in England. Auxerre knew its best players would be bought by richer clubs, so the trick was to develop more youngsters on one hand and loyally depend on Polish imports – the string of reliable Poles was not broken: Matysik and Zgutczynski were the current workhorses.
Metz – 8th with 40 points. Keeping their usual in the championship, but this season was remarkable for them.
Matra Racing – 7th with 41 points. The ambitious project worked so far – the team came back from obscurity and clearly aimed to make an impact in French football. The Uruguayan Paz was perhaps the only great star in this squad, but he was not alone (Tusseau, Fernandez) and there was even young talent (Olmeta, Blondeau). However, the biggest asset was their coach – the Portuguese Jorge. Well, so far, so good – compared to fellow Parisian rivals Paris SG they did very well with poorer squad.
Olympique Marseille – 6th with 41 points. Ahead of Matra Racing only on better goal-difference, but they were similarly ambitious projects both. Not coming to fruition yet, but the aims were clear and so were the methods: hire great coach, buy famous players. Wanting to come back to leading position Marseille had Hidalgo as sporting director, Gili coaching, and impressive names in the squad: the West Germans Forster and Allofs, the Cameroonian Bell, Giresse, Genghini, Domergue, Le Roux, Ayache, Papin. A bit on the aging side, but solid foundation with enormous experience and success and since money were no longer a problem, it was sure fresher talent will be added quickly.
Toulon – 5th with 41 points. A great season for them and overall a pleasant surprise. Since the squad was relatively modest (Ginola was still only a promising youngster), they perhaps overperformed, but also serve as comparative example to teams ambitiously going up, but not ready yet for real success: modest Toulon was, at the moment, equal to Marseille and Matra Racing (ahead of them not on points, but on goal-difference), but the bigger clubs were coming out of decline and were still in building process. Thus, relatively modest, but at its prime team, was practically equal to ambitious, yet unfinished, climbers. As an another example Toulon served well too: Delio Onnis was their assistant-coach. Not only one of the many great players of the 1970s who were now trying to make names as coaches as well, but also continuing the great rivalry with fellow Argentine Carlos Bianchi – for years they fought between themselves who will be the top scorer of the French league, now they were competing again as young coaches.
St. Etienne – 4th with 42 points. Looked like the crisis was over and they came back to its familiar leading position. Herve Herbin was back at the helm and that was the biggest sign of revival – instantly his magic worked and helped by one of the his great 1970s team, Saramagna (and another – Repellini – was coaching the second team), the past seemingly was coming back. However, it was an illusion… it was enough to look at the squad: back in the great 1970s St. Etienne was studded with talent and untypically for French team had about 15 national team players. Now… their Bulgarian defender Georgi Dimitrov was unable to adjust to living abroad and wanted to go home, Castaneda never made it more than occasional back-up goalkeeper in the national team (and that was already in the past), and apart from Krimau and maybe Ribar, there was nothing else. Good season, but just an oddity, a sudden burst and nothing more.
Montpellier – 3rd with 45 points. Great season for them even if they were not real title contender. However, they scored most goals this championship (68) and finished with best goal-difference (+30). The squad was not impressive, but it was a great example of achieving more with less. Practically, just a few solid stars: Brazilian Julio Cezar, the Yugoslav Stojkovic, the Cameroonian Roger Milla, the veteran goalkeeper Rust, and the promising youngster Laurent Blanc, but it was enough of a skeleton to provide stable reliability. It was a team practically at its peak and healthy appetite and soon will be re-enforced by enormous South American talent: it was not a team to stay satisfied with its current success, even if having no means for actually running for the title.
Bordeaux – 2nd with 46 points. On the surface, they were still strong leading club, but the fact they were distant second this season and clinched silver only by a point ahead of weaker squad, betrays bitter reality – Bordeaux was already beyond their peak and going downhill. Was it going to be a terrible decline was a matter of quick measures taken right after the end of the season, but in any case rebuilding is rocky time and it is always difficult to discard great names. But reality is already tough: Jacquet was leading coach, but somewhat yesterday’s news, already challenged by younger generation, even bypassed by some already. And similarly the squad – sounds so impressive to have Dropsy, Vercruysse, Girard, Tigana, Ferreri, Thouvenel, the Vujovic brothers… but all of them were dangerously aging and younger stars in other teams were already ahead of them. Bordeaux had little younger talent – Roche, Gnako, Bijotat, Lallane – and they somehow did not look like first-rate. The team was getting too old for its own good and radical rebuilding was needed urgently: after all, they were not match to a team with no exceptional talent this season.
Monaco – champions with 52 points from 20 wins, 12 ties, 6 losses and 53-29 goal-difference. Great season in which they practically had no rival, leaving Bordeaux 6 points behind. Praise to Arsene Wenger most of all, for Monaco hardly ever had really great squad and this season did not contradict tradition. Tradition of sudden ups and downs and the reasons perhaps was the policy of short-term assemblage – when it worked, they went up; when it did not, they went down. This season it worked, so again praise to Wenger. Not a bad squad – the English stars Hateley (coming from Italy) and Hoddle, well known Frenchmen – Amoros, Bellone, Ettori, Batiston. Let add Fofana, Dib and Puel… not enough for a full well-rounded team. The stars were aging all… Hoddle was suffering with constant injuries… one can question the consistency of Bellone… Hateley may have played for Milan, but was never real first choice for the Englsih national team… Ettori was not truly great keeper and easily replaced when a decent keeper popped-up in the French national team… the best years of Battiston were already in the past… to a point, it was one-time affair, largely due to the ability of Wenger to motivate and squeeze the best of experienced aging players. It worked to the delight of Monaco’s fans – it worked even better than it should. The champions collected the 5th title for the club. However, the chances of repeating the success next year were practically nill.