After a respectable 6th place finish this past campaign, Bordeaux was riding into the transfer window on a growing wave of optimism, spurred on by refreshingly encouraging performances. All of that, however, was brought to a sudden halt last month in Hungary as the team sunk to a humiliating loss to Videoton in the Europa League playoffs.
A defeat, which laid bare the team’s shortcomings and showed that it would take more than a few signings to shake off the coat of mediocrity that’s been gathering around the club ever since the last title win in 2009. Even if an unbeaten start to the new season has relieved some of the pressure, a doubt still lingers over Bordeaux’s campaign – is this team good enough to challenge for the European spots? Has the club’s transfer strategy been ambitious enough?
Despite the changes in the backroom staff, with notably the arrival of new club president Stephane Martin midway through the season replacing long-time boss Jean-Louis Triaud, it initially seemed as if the management was committing the same mistakes that had made them so unpopular with the fans previously. The departure of Cedric Carrasso, long-serving goalkeeper and fan favourite, at the end of his contract despite his insistence that he was more than happy to accept a role as second choice, was reminiscent of the treatment of Cheick Diabaté the season before.
Even if his replacement, former international Benoît Costil, is more than capable between the sticks, the fact that Carrasso’s name is still chanted in the stands behind Costil is telling of the role he played and the fans’ reaction to their former captain’s departure. Nevertheless, the increased spending – not just in the transfer market, but in renovating the training ground as well as overseeing the improvement of transport links to the new stadium – has showcased the upturn in ambition that Martin has brought to the club.
Other departures were met with significantly less opposition, as the window saw Bordeaux offload deadwood such as Nicolas Maurice-Belay and Cedric Yambéré. Jeremy Ménez’s departure to Turkey’s Antalyaspor put a definitive cross over a signing which 12 months ago promised a Ben Arfa-like rejuvenation for the former PSG striker, but instead saw him regress even further into failed wonder-kid territory.
Deadline day would also see the departure of Diego Rolán after 2 seasons where the promise he showed in his 15-goal season in 2014 would only come back in fleeting glimpses. It beggars belief that Bordeaux once had the opportunity to offload him for €15m to Newcastle.
With the burden of Rolán lifted from Gourvennec’s shoulders, he was now free to go into the market for a marquee striker. While Dutch striker Luuk de Jong had initially been announced as the Uruguayan’s replacement, he was rejected by the manager at the last minute because of ‘tactical incompatibilities’ – showing how strictly the former Guingamp coach keeps to his plans for the team, even when presented with the opportunity to sign a top striker.
The club instead managed to finalise the signing of Lille striker Nicolas de Preville in the dying hours of the window – an equally as impressive coup, especially given that the forward had been one of the standout players for Les Dogues in the previous campaign, one who Marcelo Bielsa was expected to hold on to for the season to come.
Regardless of the reasons why he was sold, Bordeaux now have a reliable striker around whom they can build an attack. Even if Gaetan Laborde had formed a fruitful partnership with Francois Kamano and Malcom in the season gone by, he still lacks the consistency to be the team’s first choice striker.
Nevertheless, the story of the summer for Bordeaux has been over the future of Malcom, the brightest spark in the team’s attack and without a doubt one of the most exciting players to appear on the south-west coast for a long time. It’s not often the attention of Europe’s top clubs turns to the banks of the Garonne – the last time this was the case Yoann Gourcuff was leading the club to Champions League quarter finals – but Malcom’s performances last season were certainly worthy of it.
The offers to prise the Brazilian away seemed inevitable and eventually they would come in the form of €30m bids from Wolfsburg and Dortmund. An astronomical sum for Bordeaux, even in the current financial climate in football. However, the club stood firm and refused to let the Brazilian go – a sign of new found ambition? Not quite: Gourvennec has publicly stated that he’s already resigned to losing his star winger before the start of next season. Nevertheless, the fact that Bordeaux was able to fend off interest for Malcom, for this summer at least, as well as strengthen does show that the club is in a stable position both financially and sporting wise.
A much less publicised but equally as important moment in the window was the retention of right-back Youssouf Sabaly, having been at the club on a loan deal from PSG last season. The former France youth international was one of the standout players in the first half of the season for Bordeaux, and to have been able to keep him at the club is a significant step in the right direction, especially for a club that has struggled so much in the fullback department in recent years.
The signing of Danish midfielder Lukas Lerager has also provided some much needed backup in a position where the club had been relying perhaps too much on youth (or on the other side of the spectrum with Toulalan.
Whilst beforehand they may have been at the mercy of the Premier League’s dizzying offers (take Khazri 2 seasons ago, for instance), this willingness to hold on to the team’s creator-in-chief in Malcom, albeit for only another year, does highlight an increase in ambition that’s been missing from the club ever since Laurent Blanc left.
The club’s willingness to spend (relatively) big on new signings – €30m in total, including €8m for De Preville and €7.5m on Cafu – is also an indicator of a renewed sense of initiative from the Bordeaux management, in an attempt to bring the club back to its rightful place. It might be premature to call this the start of a new era – as the Videoton games showed – but there’s certainly reason for Bordeaux fans to be cautiously optimistic about the future.