Colin Crawford is a museum worker with a well cultivated taste for the arcane and unusual. Buy him a cup of tea and he’ll talk about anything to do with soccer.
In the second of a new series, Colin begins his alphabetically-sorted assessment of each team in Ligue 1 with little Angers.
Located in the northwest of France, Angers is the historical capital of the Anjou region and it’s fair to say that its historical influence outweighs it’s sporting one. The Plantagenet family had its beginnings in Anjou, a line that would produce the houses of York and Lancaster. A Plantagenet was on the English throne from 1154 until 1485, a span that saw the signing of Magna Carta, a loss in the hundred years war (actually lasted 116 years), and the outbreak of the War of The Roses. The death of Richard III brought an end to both the war and the family line, with the ascension and savvy politics of Henry VII bringing in the age of the Tudors.
Otherwise, Angers had one of the earliest universities in the region and was, and continues to be, a centre for horticultural research; a distinctly non-industrial background that may provide an explanation for the lack of success from Angers Sporting Club de L’Ouest. Founded in 1919 they’ve hovered around the top three tiers of French football without ever having the name engraved on a piece of silverware. There was an appearance in the UEFA Cup in the 1972-73 competition, but they were dumped out in the first round by Berliner FC Dynamo, 3-2 on aggregate.
There have been a few players of note to pass through the ranks of Angers SCO. The great Raymond Kopa started his professional career in 1949-1951 before moving on to Nimes and, eventually, Real Madrid, where he would become the first French player to win the European Cup. Special mention, however, has to go to Amar Rouaï. He played only two seasons for Angers SCO, 1957-58, and 1962-63 but, honestly, it’s the time in between that was interesting. He was part of the FLN National team or l’onze de l’indépendance . The FLN or Front Liberation Nationale, was an independence movement within Algeria that was actively working to remove French rule, and the football team was a way to demonstrate the depth of feeling around the issue to a largely clueless French public .
Last season Angers SCO finished 9th in the table, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story of their campaign. Back in the top division after over two decades, the expectation was for the team to largely act as fodder for their bigger rivals, with relegation certainly not out of the equation. Instead, based on a solid defensive set-up devised by coach Stéphane Moulin, Angers spent much of the season in contention for European competition, only really falling out of the top 5 towards the end of the season where a common combination of fatigue and lack of scoring cost them some close games.
The 38 goals allowed was the fourth lowest in the division, and centre-back Romain Thomas was a key part of that. The 28 year old “offers great organisational and positional abilities and can provide a calming, commanding presence at the back” and the Angers faithful will be hoping that he can continue his acclimatisation to top tier football as adroitly as he began it. At the other end Billy Ketkeophomphone led the team with six assists, chipping in with six goals as well. The lead goal scorer was captain and midfield engine, Cheikh N’Doye. The Senegalese scored nine goals on the season, with the dramatically scored youtube compilation I watched seeming to indicate he was particularly dangerous in the air on set-pieces, with a knack for timing his arrival on crosses in open play.
As for new additions, the most eye-catching is likely Croatian centre-back Mateo Pavlovic, simply because he’s coming on a free transfer from Werder Bremen. It’s worth digging a bit deeper, and the fact he only played 4 games for Bremen and spent an unspectacular season and a half with Ferencvaros in Hungary is telling. He was a highly touted youth prospect and, at 26, still has time to learn at centre-back, but he’ll have to work hard to break into the first team. The more exciting signing is Famara Diedhiou, signed for 1.75M Euros from Clermont Foot. The 23 year old scored 21 goals, winning the golden boot and player of the year. They’ve complemented the arrival of Diedhiou with the purchase of Karl Toko Ekambi from Sochaux, another free-scoring Ligue 2 forward, and the hope is that these two will add some heft to the goals scored column in the upcoming season.
They’ll open their season on August 13th away to Montepellier and I will (hopefully) be watching, the first step in my baptême du feu!
1 Dahmane Defnoun and Ali Benfadah are two other players that saw time with both Angers and the FLN, but Rouaï was the most accomplished of the three.