Seventeenth in Ligue 1 and just two points above the league’s bottom side, Sochaux are teetering on the edge. Ahead of their crucial pair of remaining fixtures, Marvin Martin and Ryad Boudebouz, two products of the club's youth academy, spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about their determination to beat the drop.
Sochaux, an enduring part of the French football landscape, start their final push for survival away to Caen, before facing Marseille at home. If they were to be relegated, Ligue 1 would lose not only a veritable talent factory, but also its longest-serving resident, with the club having spent 64 seasons in the French top flight.
“If we go down, it’s us players from the youth academy who will be hit the hardest,” said midfield playmaker Martin, who knows his days in Franche-Comte could be numbered. “It’s thanks to Sochaux that we’re professional players today.”
For his part, Boudebouz is all too aware of what relegation would mean for the club. “If Sochaux go down it will be a blow for the entire region, which lives for the club,” said the Algerian international. “We want to fight for all the fans who come to watch us and who have supported us for so long.”
Brothers in arms
Despite drawing interest from big-name suitors, Martin and Boudebouz plan to battle to the end to save the club that they consider as family, and that has allowed them both to blossom. “Marvin is like my brother,” said Boudebouz, 22, two years younger than the man who topped the Ligue 1 assists table last term with 17. The two friends, who both turned professional in 2008, are part of a generation that helped Sochaux finish an impressive fifth last season, and achieve a place Europe.
After the highs of 2010/11, Sochaux now find themselves in a decidedly less desirable position at the other end of the table. But recent results, including a last-gasp 1-0 win over Nancy on 7 May, have provided renewed hope of beating the drop.
Indeed, that victory over Nancy allowed Les Lionceaux to climb out of the relegation zone for the first time since 21 December 2011. “In a season there are always difficult periods, and that’s when you see the togetherness of a group,” said Boudebouz.
It is worth noting that Sochaux’s 2011/12 side is not entirely the same as the one that performed so impressively last term. Indeed, after coach Francis Gillot left to join Bordeaux last summer, the squad underwent an extensive pre-season overhaul. “When you lose five first-choice players from a squad like ours, it’s tough,” said Boudebouz.
“Last year was my first full season in which I played every match,” continued the Algerian international. “Marvin and I thought that everyone was going to stay put, and that we would even strengthen for the Europa League. The idea of playing in Europe with the squad we had was what made us decide to stay. It was for the good of the club but also for ourselves on a personal level, as we thought it would be a great season to continue our progress.”
Stomach for the fight
The European dream lasted just one round, with Sochaux falling to Metalist Kharkov at the first hurdle. And for Martin and Boudebouz in particular, the disappointment would weigh heavy for some time.
“This season, a lot of the burden has been placed on the two of us,” Martin explained. “It’s unfair because a team is made up of a whole group of people, and not two players alone. Football is a team sport, and it’s wrong that we should be blamed when things go badly.”
It was in early March, amid this uncertainty, that then coach Mecha Bazdarevic was shown the door, the Bosnian paying the price for a winless streak that dated back to 6 November 2011. His replacement was Eric Hely, a former player and product of Sochaux’s academy who had coached the youth and reserve teams since 2003, and who had the distinct advantage of already knowing the players inside-out.
Hely’s first match in charge was a 3-2 away win at Evian, with an Edouard Butin double and a strike from Vincent Nogueira, both club-reared talents, ending a dark spell of four months without a win. “Coach Hely put his message across to us, and he’s not one to mince his words,” Martin recalled. “Perhaps we hadn’t fully realised just how precarious our situation was.”
With their top-flight status in the balance, Sochaux’s home-grown talents have pulled together and shown they have the stomach for the fight. It now time for the ‘Lion Cubs’ to sharpen their claws and scrap to make survival a certainty.