SM Caen: The club named after a poet

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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.

This season Colin is exploring Ligue 1, club by club. This week? SM Caen, and he’ll begin with some poetry.

Sometimes the soft, deceitful hours
Let us enjoy the halcyon wave;
Sometimes impending peril lowers
Beyond the seaman’s skill to save,
The Wisdom, infinitely wise,
That gives to human destinies
Their foreordained necessity,
Has made no law more fixed below,
Than the alternate ebb and flow
Of Fortune and Adversity.

– Francois de Malherbe, To Cardinal Richelieu

The above, rather clumsy, verse was written by Francoise de Malherbe, the namesake of Stade Malherbe de Caen. Born in Caen in 1555, de Malherbe’s education and career took him to the Protestant heartlands of Europe before eventually landing in Paris as the court poet for Henry IV. He busied himself with accruing disciples, writing unimaginative, rigid poetry, and picking at the grammar of Phillipe Desportes, a contemporary. In spite of his limited ability, he did on occasion strike lyrical gold, and his “insistence upon strict form, restraint, and purity of diction prepared the way for French Classicism.”[1]

Describing himself as un excellent arrangeur de syllables, Malherbe undoubtedly had a lasting effect on French poetry. His name is not one commonly discussed beyond his native country, however, and finding translations of his work is not particularly straightforward. This is no great surprise, as work that relies so heavily on stringent codes and rules in one language would seem clumsy or wooden in others. This is a reality worth bearing in mind in the weeks following the bedlam of the 2016 summer transfer window.

The BBC estimated spending over the summer as £1.165bn, with 13 of the 20 teams in the English top-flight breaking their own spending record; an orgy of spending fuelled by the £5.1bn that had been poured into the league following their new television deal coming into effect. The optimism that comes along with a new signing is a heady high, and one that fans generally can’t seem to get enough of, confident as they are that each new player will make an immediate difference and drag them closer to the summit of whichever mountain they are attempting to climb. This fevered joy is only occasionally tempered by the dimly remembered failures of transfer windows past, but these ghosts are put to rest by the new player, the new manager, the new commercial sponsorship.

The truth, of course, is that some players just don’t work in different environments. Sometimes a piece of prose that works well in it’s native language is butchered by a bad translation, and sometimes a good translator elevates the original work to new heights.

Dideir N’ Dong, the engine that ran at the heart of Lorient’s midfield has, for instance, moved to Sunderland for 13.7m. There’s no doubt that the young Gabonese international has talent, and has played well in the north of France for Lorient over the past season and a half, but how will he fare in the Premier League? David Moyes is not well known for his cosmopolitan nature – perhaps an unfair criticism given his willingness to manage Real Sociedad, failure notwithstanding – and it remains to be seen whether he will be able to take the raw French text of Didier N’Dong and transliterate it into fluid English at the base of his midfield, or whether he just translates the individual words into a clunking mess.

Stade Malherbe Caen appear to be getting a good tune out of their new signings so far, as they sit in sixth place with two wins and a loss. The Normandy side only turned fully professional in 1985 at the behest of the ambitious player-coach Pierre Mankowski, having spent the decades following the Second World War as one of the top amateur teams in the region. They had a remarkable early rise, finding themselves in the UEFA Cup in the 1992-93 season, enjoying continental competition only seven years after their move to the full-time ranks. Since then they’ve bobbed between the top-flight and Ligue 2, the height probably being reaching the final of the Coupe de la Ligue in 2005 but falling to Strasbourg.

They haven’t spent a lot of money, but upgrading Ronny Rodelin from loan to permanent player seems to make sense, and he’s already scored once this year. His real skill, however, is in crafting the chances for the forward men and whilst the sale of Andy Delort to Tigres looked to be a set-back, Ivan Santini has come in from Standard Liege and fit in seamlessly, scoring two goals in the three games played. Defensively, the sale of Dennis Appiah to Anderlecht could have unsettled things, but Damien Da Silva and Syam Ben Youssef are a strong, settled pairing in the centre of defence. Caen also continue Ligue 1’s streak of including a player that you recognise from ten years ago, signing Steed Malbranque on a one year free transfer deal in the summer.

They take on Stade Rennais on Sunday, and I’ll be keeping an eye on how they do, so keep your eyes peeled for a report early next week.


More by Colin Crawford

Girondin de Bordeaux: Sometimes you have a vintage year

SC Bastia: Riots in the streets

Adventures in Ligue 1 – Angers SCO


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