Let it be known, 2010-2011 is the season in which the “Gambardella 2008” generation took over at the Stade Rennais. In the stride of M’Vila and Brahimi, will they be able to do better than their predecessors of 2003, led by Briand and Gourcuff? This is what the club seems to think, building an important part of its short-term future on their talent.
The 2003 winners blossomed under Bölöni’s management, and most of them are still making their way at the highest level nowadays. Meanwhile, the 2008 winners are progressively settling in under Antonetti’s guidance, and constitute the base of this young team beginning a cycle, so much vaunted since last July.
Integration to the first team: Draw
Both generations have got one thing in common: Almost all of the players that composed them have turned professional. This is anything but usual for teams reaching that level. As a proof, from the Strasbourg team encountered by Rennes in the 2003 final, only Habib Bellaïd and Éric Mouloungui have remained to professional football.
On this aspect, the 2008 generation seems to follow a very similar way. Out of the fourteen players used at the Stade de France by Laurent Huard and Régis Le Bris , eleven have turned professional in Rennes, one did it elsewhere (Louhoungou) and two were force to abandon, at least for some time, their dreams of professional football (M’Laab and Pivaty, both gone for CFA teams)
Several new professionals have already left the club however (Lasimant, Le Marchand, Le Tallec and Petit), and the Rennes future of two other remains uncertain (Caro and Pajot will see their contract expire at the end of the season). At this moment, only five of them have made their way to Rennes’ professional team (Brahimi, Camara, M’Vila, Souprayen and Théophile-Catherine), not far over their 2003 predecessors.
Gambardella 2003 : A lukewarm success
What summary could be done, in terms of the generation 2003’s contribution? It was very important, and highly frustrating at the same time.
2002, the club is in full doubt, still bogged down in the monumental and costly recruitment errors made during summer 2000. Christian Gourcuff’s spell was a complete failure, and Rennes was struggling to deal with its nouveau riche club image, setting European targets but fighting against relegation. An obvious fact is raised: The Academy, which already produced very good players during the previous decade, is under-used. François Pinault made the choice to offer it a quadrupled budget, and the club’s objective clearly became to lay the foundations of the professional squad on it, with a policy aiming to see 50% of the playing staff trained at the club’s Academy.
In the latter’s wake, this generation’s input reached its summit between 2006 and 2007, without managing to reach anything else than UEFA Cup qualifications. At the end of summer 2007, only one of the players remained at the club: Jimmy Briand. The 2003 generation had given a great contribution to the revival induced by Bölöni, but the club failed to gain full profit of it, as Gourcuff’s rushed departure to Milan AC symbolises.
Gambardella 2008 : A slower emergence
As opposed to its 2008 successor, the team that won in 2003 had already gathered much experience. During the 2002-2003 season, Philippe Bergeroo and Vahid Halilhodzic had not hesitated to throw Grégory Bourillon (21 games in L1), Jacques Faty (9 games), Stéphane N’Guéma (5 games) and Jimmy Briand (1 game) at the deep end.
|Damien Le Tallec|
The following season, while Bölöni had decided to rely on the rising generation, Guy Lacombe left it completely on the side of the road. In 2008-2009, only Théophile-Catherine made a bit of a breakthrough in the professional squad, with two starts in the Coupe de la Ligue. Camara and Lasimant were also offered a few minutes in the season’s last match in Marseille, as the manager’s departure had already been confirmed.
To Lacombe’s credit, he was not facing the same context as his predecessor. Bölöni, searching for a competitive team, could easily take the time for tries and introduce youngsters to Ligue 1. In 2008-2009 however, Rennes was a well-oiled formation, able to manage 18 consecutive games without a loss, and therefore not as easily modifiable. The patience of Rennes’ youngsters was severely tested, too severely for one of them, Damien Le Tallec, who decided to quit Rennes’ Reserve to join Borussia Dortmund’s
The loans as an indicator
One could think that Frédéric Antonetti’s arrival, in June 2009, was opening the generation 2008’s era. It is both true and false. In 2009-2010, only two players were introduced to Ligue 1: M’Vila, who appeared immediately as a future international to Antonetti, and Théophile-Catherine who, as under Lacombe’s management, was only offered limited time on the pitch. Nothing too exciting at first sight.
But this time, the solution was to loan. For the 2003 generation, that strategy had been used in diverse ways, to relaunch N’Guema, to offer Arthur Sorin some playing time, or to try and sell Mvuemba or Chaigneau.
Encouraged by Sow’s spell in Sedan, the management made a massive use of loans in Ligue 2. A successful strategy, which allowed the youngsters to gain experience without fighting the competition in an overcrowded squad, which only M’Vila’s talent and maturity could overcome without resistance.
Today, in terms of high-level experience (Ligue 1 or Ligue 2), the 2008 generation has nearly caught up with his 2003 predecessor. Cleverly, Stade Rennes also managed to avoid a sometimes difficult period of integration for its young players. Arnold Mvuemba or Florent Chaigneau could witness of the difficulties inherent to professional beginning. The first took years to affirm himself, before finally blossoming in Lorient, the second sought completely after a string of catastrophic games.
Note : The graph above represents the evolution of the number of games played by the two generations over time, after their Gambardella Cup victory. In 2003 (blue curve), some players had already gathered some professional experience. The progression in the number of games is consistent, before gaining in intensity in 2005-2006 (2 to 3 years after the final). After Gourcuff’s departure, the curve returns to normal, before lowering strongly at +4 years, when Bourillon and Faty quit Brittany, leaving only Briand behind them.
In 2008 (Red and Orange curves), the arrival in the first team is happening later, with the players only reaching in Summer 2010 (+2 years) the total already played by the 2003s. A misleading assessment: By including all the Ligue 2 games played during their loan, the players have nearly caught up, in one year, the experience that their 2003 predecessor had acquired in three seasons. The projections made (in dotted lines) according to the number of games played since the beginning of the season, show a constant increase, and nearly equal to the 2003 players’ best score (2005-2006 season). An increase which is destined to be accentuated even more, if Souprayen or Brahimi were to become regular starters.
An difference in emergence, as a good omen?
Older, and strenghtened by one additional year of Ligue 2 experience, they give much more guarantees than their predecessors. Samuel Souprayen, who is still to complete his breakthrough in the first team, had already shown that he could be a key player in Ligue 2. Enough to create relation of mutual trust between the player and the club, which would have been difficult to instate if he had remained with the reserve squad for one more year.
« I think we are reaching a real turning point, Jérôme Leroy affirmed on 21st December. The potential is there. […] If you keep these youngsters, they are the future at Rennes. Look what Lille has done, they have kept a lot of players since three-four years, and they have become key-players”.
Off to a good start in the League during this 2010-2011 season, everything seems to be shaping up well for Rennes and its «Gambardella 2008» generation. Better, it seems that this generation is far from having shown all its potential yet. A sign, maybe, that glorious tomorrows are well on their way…
 The squad for the 2003 final: Chaigneau, Le Toux, Macé (Sorin, 84’), Bourillon, Faty, Dugaz, Mvuemba, Bru, Briand, Gourcuff (Benchenaa, 75’), N’Guéma (Stanger, 84’).
 The squad for the 2008 final: Petit, Théophile-Catherine, Louhoungou, Souprayen (cap), Le Marchand, M’Vila, Pajot, Brahimi (Caro, 77’), Lasimant, Le Tallec (Pivaty, 86’), M’Laab (Camara, 64’)
With thanks to the very kind people at Stade Rennais Online who have allowed us to reproduce this wonderful piece.