Before Leicester, there was Giroud’s Montpellier: the story of a sporting miracle

From Serie B to the title in three years: Giroud’s goals and the magic of a team that nobody believed in, capable of beating Ancelotti’s PSG.

France, Ligue 1. 2011-2012 season. PSG has just passed into the hands of the brand new and very rich Qatari property, with only two major objectives: the first (almost obvious) is to go back to winning the championship immediately, the second (which will prove to be a little more difficult) is to conquer for the first once the Champions League.

To do this, he brought together people of the caliber di Pastore, Sissoko, Sirigu, Lavezzi, Menez, Thiago Motta, Maxwell and Matuidi. Arriving in December, PSG is doing what it was built for: they are first in the standings, but only three points clear of the first rival. Marseille? Lille? Lyon? Monk? No, none of these. This is Montpellier, a team that just two years earlier won promotion from the French Serie B.

This was surprising, but not that much. After all, Montpellier had clearly lost the direct clash at home with PSG (0-3 without appeal) and the gap between the two teams seemed unbridgeable, especially when the then Parisian sporting director Leonardo decided to relieve Kombouaré from his position to entrust the bench to a master of the trade, Carletto Ancelotti.

The title of champion of France therefore seemed to have already been awarded. Nobody believed in Montpellier. Nobody believed he could go beyond what he had already done. Nobody believed in a club with a budget of 36 million euros (164 less than the PSG)that President Nicollin, a unique and now dying out character in football, had purchased in 1974 for 60,000 euros from the Division D’Honeur, the equivalent of our Excellence.

He sure believed in that great little miracle. They called him crazy to think he could rewrite a story already written. To think that a small club in the south of France could really snatch the title from the capital’s team, bought by Sheikh Al-Thani, one of the richest and most powerful men in the world. Yet that Montpellier was able to start a 45-point ride in the second round, six more than Ancelotti’s PSG. A ride that took him incredibly to the roof of France.

Getty / Goal

Reading the squad of that team, one becomes even more aware of the exceptional nature of the event. On the bench was René Girard: many trophies as a footballer with Bordeaux, but only one as a coach. One, but unforgettable. In goal Jourdren, one who reached the peak of his career in that very season. In defense, among others, a Ligue 1 totem pole like Hilton and an old acquaintance of Serie A, that Yanga-Mbiwa who also decided on a derby in Rome. The star of that team, the technical leader, was undoubtedly Younes Belhandawhich in recent years has been lost between Ukraine and Turkey. But the real driver, the cover man, was Olivier Giroud, with 21 goals and 12 assists. Virtually unspeakable.

His most emblematic play is not a goal, but an assist. The synthesis of never giving up, of believing in it until the end, told by his technician Girard.

“In 2012 we did something incredible at Montpellier and Giroud was decisive for us. He scored several goals, but his most important play was in the penultimate game of the season. He carried the ball for fifty meters and then served the teammate who scored. Goal, victory and championship in your pocket. I still have the chills. “

It was the penultimate matchday, against Lille of Rudi Garcia, Payet and Hazard. However, mathematics only arrived in the last act of the season, at Auxerre’s home. A totally surreal match, characterized by continuous suspensions and interruptions due to the protest of Auxerre fans, who they threw toilet paper and tennis balls onto the court. In the end it was decided by John Utaka, the surprise hero, one of the wingmen with a big heart together with Souleymane Camara, who a few years earlier had participated in another half miracle, that of Senegal at the 2002 World Cup.

Louis Nicollin Montpellier 2012Getty

Final standings: Montpellier 82 points, PSG 79. Not to be believed, not to be believed. The PSG of Ancelotti, Pastore and Nenè behind the Montpellier of Girard, Belhanda and Giroud. On the day of the parade to celebrate the title in the city, President Nicollin kept his promise. It presented itself with an orange and blue colored crest, the colors of Montpellier. He said he would do it if they won the title. And he really did, despite his 70 years. He passed away in 2017, on his birthday, for a heart attack. He who has always put his heart there.

After that season everything will go as it should have been. PSG practically always champion of France (except for Mbappé’s Monaco exploit) and Montpellier inevitably returning to its size, after a brief appearance in the Champions League. Today, if you think of a football miracle, Ranieri’s Leicester immediately comes to mind, engulfed by social media in all its meanings and nuances. Protagonist of books, documentaries and told at least once by every self-respecting sports site.

But before Leicester there was Montpellier. A feat that in modern football, due to the technical and economic gap (much more marked in Ligue 1 rather than in the Premier) is probably unrepeatable. Indeed, certainly. But for this very reason it will remain eternal.