France's newly-promoted trio face challenge
© AFP

For the unlikely trio of Ajaccio, Dijon and Evian-Thonon-Gaillard, winning promotion to Ligue 1 in the first place was one thing, but to stay up would be something else entirely.

While 1998 champions Lens and seven-times title winners Monaco will be plying their trade in Ligue 2 this season, the three new boys have next to no experience of the top flight.

Hailing from the Alpine region of Haute-Savoie, Evian-TG have enjoyed a vertigo-inducing climb to the top. They won the title in their very first Ligue 2 campaign last season to make it three promotions in four years.

The club represents the towns of Evian-les-Bains, Thonon-les-Bains and Gaillard, all by Lake Geneva, but without a suitable stadium of their own, they are reduced to playing 80 kilometres away in Annecy. They only emerged as a force in 2009 when Franck Riboud, president of the Danone food processing multinational, became the club's honorary president.

French FIFA World Cup™-winners Zinedine Zidane, Bixente Lizarazu and Alain Boghossian also came on board as shareholders, and their backing helped Evian win the third division in 2010 and then the Ligue 2 crown last year. Coached by former Marseille and France defender Bernard Casoni, they never fell out of the top five, and a ten-game unbeaten run in the spring took them to the title.

Danone may provide €3.5 million a year in sponsorship, but the club's success was still a big surprise. Indeed, Lizarazu was so sure the team would not go up that he insisted he would strip naked in public if the dream came true. It did, and he kept his word.

Evian-TG have brought in experienced duo Jerome Leroy and Sidney Govou this summer, but that will be about it, as they stick to a strict budget of €25 million with Riboud insisting the club's long-term viability takes precedence.

"We give the club a certain amount of money each year.... but it is up to the directors to make sure they survive in the long run," he told the French newspaper Dauphiné Libéré. "They need to take this period of success and the money that we provide and use it to build foundations for the future. And that future does not necessarily lie in Ligue 1," he warned.

Dijon seek to cut the mustard
Meanwhile, Dijon are also appearing in Ligue 1 for the first time. The Burgundy club owe their own meteoric rise in large part to a certain Rudi Garcia. The current Lille coach enjoyed five years in charge at the club until 2007, in which time he established them as a force in the Second division.

Now under the charge of former Lyon midfielder Patrice Carteron, Dijon produced a fine late run to seal promotion, although the main factor behind their success was Sebastian Ribas, a Uruguayan striker who scored 23 goals in 38 games, but has now left for Genoa in Italy. He will be missed, and despite boasting a celebrity shareholder of their own in the shape of Chelsea and France winger Florent Malouda, Dijon are big favourites to go down.

No big-name investors have appeared at Ajaccio, but there has been one celebrity signing. Mexican international goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa has signed a three-year deal in Corsica, swapping the adulation of the vast support at Mexico City giants Club America for the tranquillity of the Mediterranean island.

Ochoa, who has 45 caps and has appeared at two FIFA World Cups™, was included in France Football's list of 50 candidates for the Ballon d'Or in 2007, and will see Ajaccio as a potential stepping stone to bigger things.

Ajaccio, for whom this will be their 11th Ligue 1 campaign, with the most recent coming in 2005/06, have also signed Brazilian former Sochaux and Saint-Etienne striker Ilan. However, with the smallest budget of any Ligue 1 club - around €15 million - and the smallest support, they are also likely to struggle.