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The Rise Of Montpellier Hérault Sport Club

Tuesday 20th March 2012
Just three years after winning promotion from the second tier of French football, Montpellier Hérault SC sit just two points behind Ligue 1 leaders Paris St Germain.

Since winning promotion in 2009 the ambitious outfit from southern France have finished fifth and 14th, surprising many with their success.

It is a side which is not packed full of some of the superstar names that their rivals for the Ligue 1 title have at their disposal. Instead manager Rene Girard has a team built on a great team spirit, whilst playing an attacking style of football. A familiar name within the La Paillade ranks is former Portsmouth striker John Utaka, who has contributed five goals to his side's title push this season.

Karim Aït-Fana is a player within the Montpellier squad who has been very highly rated since he came onto the scene in 2006. Despite going on to make over 100 appearances for the club he is yet to win a cap for France and has only featured seven times this season.

The large number of French speaking players in the Montpellier squad compared to the many international players at their rivals has been seen as a major factor in the togetherness shown by the club, which has brought them major success this season.

Despite being two points behind PSG, Girard's side currently have a two-goal goal advantage over Carlo Ancelotti's mega-rich side. Both sides have netted 52 times in the league but with a sturdy defence to contemplate their attacking style Montpellier have conceded two less.

A third of those goals have been scored by the much coveted French striker Olivier Giroud, whose 17 goal tally makes him the current top goalscorer in Ligue 1. The 25-year-old striker's goalscoring prowess has not gone unnoticed, with Premier League north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham looking set to fight it out for his signature this summer. Giroud, who made his debut for the France national team last year, joined Montpellier in 2010 from Ligue 2 side Tours and went on to score an impressive 12 goals in his first year in France's top division.

With Montpellier's second top goalscorer Younes Belhanda only on seven goals this season, if Girard's team want to continue to be a force in France and in the Champions League they will have to do all they can to keep their prized asset.

Only fourth placed Toulouse have a better defensive record than La Paillade this season, with captain Mapou Yanga-M'Biwa and former Marseille defender Hilton at the heart of their defence. The defensive record at Stade de La Masson has been a major factor in the success that Girard has had this season, with only eight goals conceded in front of their own fans.

Girard has been praised for having the ability to build a side which has an attacking emphasis but which is also extremely solid at the back. The former French international was appointed as manager at the Stade de La Masson in 2009 after spending 11 years coaching with the French national team, firstly as assistant manager, before managing the French under 16s, 18s and 21s.

Girard was appointed to take Montpellier into Ligue 1 after former manager Rolland Courbis was sacked despite winning promotion from Ligue 2 in 2009. In three years as manager the former Bordeaux manager has taken Montpellier to the French League Cup final, where they lost out narrowly to Marseille last season, as well as taking them to the Europa League after finishing fifth in the league.

Girard is hoping to add some silverware to a club which has an interesting history despite the lack of trophies. The club was named Montpellier Hérault Sport Club in 1989 after only being established in 1974, despite the city of previously having the Stade Olympique de Montpellier team since 1919.

Current France manager Laurent Blanc is the most notable player to have pulled on the blue and orange strip of Montpellier, beginning his career with La Paillade in 1983. Former Manchester United striker Eric Cantona also had a brief loan spell in the south of France in 1989, scoring 10 goals in 33 games.

In Louis Nicollin, Montpellier have a very controversial owner but also one who is willing to supply his manager with the resources he needs to make his club a major success nationally and all around Europe. Just last year Nicollin branded Newcastle a “small club” as he mocked their pursuit of striker Giroud, before then putting a 50 million Euro price tag on the in-form striker.

Montpellier Hérault Sport Club was once seen as a small club based in the south of France who floated between Ligue 1 and Ligue 2. In Rene Girard they have a manager who wants to make his mark in senior management and with the current group of players at his disposal, who are willing to work hard whilst playing attractive football, he is half way there.

If they continue the swift growth in their stature, this small football club from southern France could soon be the very best the country has.
Adam Woodhouse

Total articles: 10

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