After back to back promotions, Strasbourg returned to the top tier last summer, bringing delight and happiness to Alsatians all over the world…
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger grew up in Strasbourg, and he says the atmosphere in the town when the football rolls around rivals anything he has experienced in North London.
“Football is so important,” he told the Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS. “In every shop, in every street, on Monday morning people speak about the result of the football team. When I was a little boy, the conversations were all about Le Racing. I always have my eye on Strasbourg’s result. They now have an important home game and I hope they will do well.”
Laurey loving life
It won’t be Wenger in the dugout when Strasbourg host Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday, but rather Thierry Laurey. The former Gazelec Ajaccio manager steered Strasbourg to the Domino’s Ligue 2 title last term and – despite the club currently sitting 17th – he’s relishing the chance to revive one of France’s sleeping giants.
Future France coach Raymon Domenech playing for Strasbourg in 1979
“When I get up in the morning I’m just so happy,” he said. “I love coming to training and I feel blessed to have this job. I knew this was an important club but I didn’t realise quite how important. I’m living a fantastic moment right now and I’m trying hard to appreciate that.”
French champions in 1979, Strasbourg remain one of the best supported clubs in the land – and few stadiums generate as much noise as the Stade de la Meinau.
‘Belong in the elite’
“That’s one of things I came to Strasbourg for – so I’m not going to complain now that there’s too much pressure, too much fervour,” continued Laurey. “The way I see it: Strasbourg are in transition but they’re a club that belong in France’s elite and they have to regain that position as quickly as possible.”
“My role is to put an action plan in place, but also to keep a lid on expectations. There’s a lot of passion here – not too much, you can never have too much – but some people think Strasbourg can become a big club again overnight. Sometimes though, you need to be patient.”
Watch: Strasbourg’s biggest win this season – a 3-0 triumph over LOSC in Week 2
Strasbourg were playing in the third tier just two years ago, and there remains a modest, family feel about the club. The players, for example, don’t think twice about walking to the stadium with the fans before each game.
“It’s a moment I enjoy because you bump into supporters. There’s no animosity, just people with their sandwiches looking to have a nice time. This an hour-and-a-half before the game. You immediately feel a sense of responsibility. It forces you, quite naturally, to focus better. You see these people who are counting on you and you think ‘wow, I have a real responsibility’. It’s good for the players.”
Strasbourg, though, are struggling on the pitch and this weekend they play PSG. Master motivator Laurey will be looking to deliver an inspirational team talk before sending his troops out against Neymar, Edinson Cavani and the rest.
“I believe the bulk of the work should have been done in the week. I just remind the players of one or two things. My team talks aren’t long. The players need to be in a relaxed and positive mindset. I stay happy, positive, try to make the players feel strong. I don’t want to make them cry. I’d rather they focused on their job, they know that they have to do.”
Laurey has coached at AC Arles-Avignon, Amiens SC and Gazelec Ajaccio in the past, but Strasbourg is his biggest job yet. The challenge of keeping the club up is also formidable.
“I’m not going to put myself under unnecessary pressure. The match brings pressure, but what I’m most interested in is the quality of our performance, not the result. You can play well and lose, and you can be rubbish and scrape a draw. We believe that if our performances are good we have more chance of winning. We focus on that. We do need points urgently, but we’re not obsessed with that. If we can play well, the points will come.”