OPINION: Ligue 1 side Brest are quietly having one of the best seasons in Europe


OPINION: Ligue 1 side Brest are quietly having one of the best seasons in Europe

Brest players cheer in front of their supporters after beating Le Havre in March
Brest players cheer in front of their supporters after beating Le Havre in MarchAFP
Currently third in Ligue 1, Brest (or Stade Brestois 29) are on track for their highest-ever finish in the French top flight. With a comparatively tiny budget, theirs should be considered one of the best seasons across Europe’s top leagues this season.

You can’t go much further west in France than the coastal city of Brest. Any further and you’re in the North Atlantic, hence why the club from the historically Celtic region of Brittany are known as Les Pirates.

With just four rounds of the league season to go, Brest are on course for a European appearance and quite possibly a berth in the newly expanded Champions League - something the Pirates have never done before.

If they do so, this would be one of the best achievements of any club across Europe’s 'top five' leagues this season because of the relatively puny budget that Brest work within.

Brest's fans are having a season to remember
Brest's fans are having a season to rememberAFP

Let’s put their season to date into perspective. Brest’s previous highest finish in France’s top flight was eighth in 1986/87. They then went bankrupt in 1991 and had to work their way back up through the divisions and were back up in Ligue 2 by 2004. They were last promoted to Ligue 1 in 2019 and finished in the bottom half in the previous four campaigns.

The club’s wage bill is in the bottom five of the 18 Ligue 1 sides (all wage information taken from fbref.com).

Considerably smaller than the budgets of Ligue 1 rivals Nice, Nantes and Lille, Brest's wage bill is about half the size of Rennes - who they play on Sunday. Lyon and Monaco have wage bills about four times the size of Brest’s with Marseille’s even larger still. And then there’s PSG, who spend over 20 times more on wages and yet have won just five more matches this season in the league.

If you put Brest into the Premier League, LaLiga, Serie A or the Bundesliga, they’d have a bottom-three budget in all four leagues. Their wage bill is almost half the size of the Premier League's smallest (Luton).

Brest are having their best-ever season
Brest are having their best-ever seasonFlashscore

In a phrase, Brest have been outstanding, as outstanding as anyone on the continent when you compare their performance to their comparative expenditure.

Bologna (13th highest wage bill in Serie A), Girona (11th highest wage bill in LaLiga) and Heidenheim (smallest wage bill in the Bundesliga) have outperformed their respective budgets admirably as well this season but nowhere near the degree of Brest in Ligue 1.

What’s the secret?

A great deal of their success has to go down to the work of head coach Eric Roy. He had only previously managed one other side (Nice) before Brest apart from working as a sporting director at both Lens and Watford. When Roy was appointed in January 2023, the club were in the relegation zone. Since his appointment, they've shot up the table.

Eric Roy has taken Les Pirates to new heights
Eric Roy has taken Les Pirates to new heightsAFP

Unlike many of the clubs in Ligue 1, Brest's recruitment model is not based on unearthing young talent - something France possesses more of than any other European nation. In fact, they have the sixth oldest squad in the league at an average age of 26. Interestingly, they also have the fewest foreigners in their squad (six) of all the clubs in Ligue 1.

It’s not sexy, high-profile foreign recruits that have fired Brest up the table but rather mostly seasoned locally-based players.

"When I construct a team, it is always done to find a balance, with a certain number of players who bring experience and others who are younger who bring energy, dynamism and youth," sporting director Grégory Lorenzi was quoted saying in The Guardian.

The likes of one-club man Brendan Chardonnet, midfielder Pierre Lees-Melou, top-scorer Romain Del Castillo, and striker Steve Mounie form their core along with a handful of clever loan signings like Martin Satriano (on loan from Inter).

Goalkeeper Marco Bizot, a mainstay between the sticks for three seasons, was signed from AZ Alkmaar for just five million euros. Most of the players were at Brest before Roy, which only highlights further how his coaching has helped elevate the group without the need to recruit recklessly.

Romain Del Castillo has been a star for Brest this season
Romain Del Castillo has been a star for Brest this seasonAFP

Organised, cleverly assembled, defensively sound - Brest have conceded the equal third-fewest goals in Ligue 1 to date - and understated, they're the definition of a team that are greater than the sum of their parts. As shown, the club are reaching heights way beyond their financial means predict and that is the best proof of effective leadership in football.

Brest should be in a relegation battle. Instead, they are fighting for a place in the UEFA Champions League. If they secure one, their season has to be considered one of the best in Europe’s 'top five' leagues in 2023/24.

The question in summer will be, can they hang on to Roy and their best assets after making waves from the western fringe of the continent? Here's hoping this is just the beginning for these Pirates and that their upcoming European adventures see them looting treasures far and wide.



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