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All of French football is under the Ligue 1’s occupation… All of French football? No, a small amateur club is still desperately putting up against the professional clubs. That’s one way of introducing my readers to this article. Another one would be: It is actually one of the most amazing and rousing sensations of the year 2012, and surely one of the most beautiful stories the world of football has heard of for a long time. US Quevilly, an amateur club from the north of France will be playing Lyon in the final of the Coupe de France on Saturday 28th of April after an epic odyssey. Let me tell you an incomparably moving club’s success and its background.
France has been talking about them quite a long time by now. In fact, France does know about them since more than only a few months, unlike the rest of Europe. US Quevilly, according to themselves and no other than Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Perez “the best amateur club of the 20th century”, have sensationally knocked out two Ligue 1 teams in the current Coupe de France competition and are willing to give French football’s elite the coup de grâce in defeating Olympique Lyonnais in the final. However, the men in the yellow jerseys aren’t only known because of that. US Quevilly isn’t a simple football club, US Quevilly is a myth of the Coupe de France.
The fans of USQ, found in 1902, quickly understood their club wasn’t a normal one – already in their early, chaste years. Only 25 years after Amable Lozai and Jules Manneville had found them, the Bretons were ruthlessly defeated (0-3) in the final of the French cup against Olympique Marseille. Until the 11th of April 2012, this final, besides two semis in the French cup in 1968 and 2010, was the unmatched performance of the life-long underdogs, of which more later.
Yet, USQ have won 9 times against sides from the Ligue 1 in their history. As already said, the most professional amateurs in France (according to their league opponents) lost their first clash with an Ligue 1 in 1927. They had to wait 15 years until they were able to show up the Ligue 1 clubs’ arrogance; they defeated Le Havre (2-0) in the round of 16 and knocked out RC Paris one round later. In 1949, USQ defeated nobody else than their next, gratefully accepted, challenge Olympique Lyon (1-0) in the round of last 16. Only 2 years ago, the heroes of a whole region sensationally showed up Boulogne (3-1) after having knocked out Stade Rennais (1-0). They lost the semis against Paris Saint-Germain due to a goal by Mevlut Erdinç. In the current season, “The Old Lady” first created a grave crisis for Didier Deschamps and Olympique Marseille (3-2) before creating a deja-vu for Rennes and Erdinç in the semis (2-1).
But who are actually the protagonists behind the success of these exceptional giant killers? Besides the manager Régis Brouard (more about him later), the most important players are Cédric Vanoukia (full-back), Frederic Weis (central defense), Zanké Diarra (defensive midfielder), Mathias Jouan (central midfielder), Pierrick Capelle (left winger), Anthony Laup (right winger) and Joris Collinet (forward). Almost every player from Quevilly’s squad has played in one of the big clubs’ academies but didn’t succeed due to many reasons, funny ones but also often even tragedies.
One of the funnier stories from Quevilly’s squad is the one of Pierrick Capelle. The left winger, who has scored once in 4 cup appearances, came in summer because of Quevilly’s myth. He had become curious because of their success in 2010 (semis) and wanted to write history with them. His pendant on the right wing, Anthony Laup hasn’t got any extraordinary story but he’s by far USQ’s most important player. He scored the crucial goal in Rennes in the dying seconds of the injury time. A goal meant to last forever.
As to Zanké Diarra, the younger brother of Alou Diarra (Olympique Marseille), the story isn’t that amusing. The younger Diarra, born and grown up few kilometers away from the Stade de France, the site of the final of the French Cup, was already playing for Quevilly until 2008 before playing for one year for Paris Saint-Germain’s reserve. He suffered a fraction in his foot, though, and opted for a return to Quevilly instead of trying his luck in the capital. He had pledged his word to extend his contract in Quevilly before signing in Paris… He’s said to be an intelligent defensive midfielder and his brother Alou says he would be good enough to play at least in the Ligue 2. Furthermore Zanké was stronger than his brother and had an good understanding of the game. Once, after a lost match, the emotional distributor of the ball insulted his team mates as “fucking cunts” and added: “I’m a fucking cunt as well!” That guy obviously hates losing. Exactly the kind of player that is needed in the match against OL.
Cédric Vanoukia’s story is by far one of the most moving ones in Petit-Quevilly, especially for Bayern fans. As the 30-year-old left full-back was playing with Franck Ribéry in Brest in 2003-2004, he and the world class winger quickly became best friends. Unlike the 28-year-young, who he ragged a lot with, Vanoukia’s career was stopped by many injuries. He has to blame himself for many of them (was too impatient in Rennes and Brest and left these clubs) but he suffered the worst injury, the one that smashed his career to pieces in an international game for Guadeloupe as a Dominican opponent smashed his masticatory apparatus to pieces with a headbutt. That happened in May 2007. Consequently he couldn’t properly eat at all and lost more than 10 kg. Suddenly he found himself at the amateurs from La Vitréenne but he worked his way up before his own body stopped him again. In summer 2010, Vanoukia suffered heart problems but no doctor could tell him whether he would still be able to play football or not. Ribéry, who has always kept in touch with him, let him come to Munich and thanks to Doctor Müler-Wohlfahrt’, one of the best sports doctors in the world, he was examined in two different hospitals with lots of expensive but effective procedures. Everything necessary was done and also paid by Franck Ribéry who couldn’t stand the thought of his friend probably being a sports invalid. In the end they knew that the Quevillais could keep on exercising his job. That’s a story of true and beautiful friendship, also one of Quevilly’s strengths.
USQ’s manager, Régis Brouard is someone you can hardly do sort in groups. Is he a great motivator like Jürgen Klopp (Borussia Dortmund)? Or is he an outstanding tactician such as Marco Bielsa? During my research for this article, I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I think he’s both, a bit like Jose Mourinho. Let me tell you about a fascinating man.
Régis Brouard, appointed manager in Petit-Quevilly 4 years ago, has made his team to one of the most professional in the “National”, the best French amateur league. Promoted last season, their way of playing doesn’t really belong to an amateur league. Their passing is really good, and their philosophy of 4-2-3-1 is pretty similar to those in the Ligue 1. The managers of each team they have knocked out in the current Coupe de France season, have said that Quevilly’s success was mainly based on tactics and a very good organization. Not quite right…
Despite the, in the French Cup, utterly successful tactics, Régis Brouard is above all a superb motivator. He adores video sessions before each big game to move his players. After observing the opponents, he first shows his team a video with their strengths, weaknesses but also with pictures of Quevilly’s success. In the end the players know everything about the opponent. Then, some hours, sometimes also one day before the match, he shows them a 20-minute-video that is only meant to motivate. Even after four years, the 45-year-old Frenchman is still able to move his squad to tears, even though some of his players seem to be badasses. Brouard himself still gets emotional as well when he watches his own videos, that he has already seen 5-6 times before, with his men. Those videos don’t only prove what an outstanding mentality USQ has, but also that their success isn’t built on coincidence at all. Read and learn:
Since Brouard only shows these videos to his players before important matches, they got to see the first one before the game against Angers (1-0) in the round of 64. On the 21st of January, the key to success were a song by Adele (Someone Like You) combined with cutscenes of Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Muhammad Ali and some more sports legends. Brouard’s goal was to incorporate an absolute desire to win to his players. It had obviously worked…
The biggest danger isn’t that our goals are too ambitious and that we fail, but that they aren’t ambitious enough and we succeed. (Régis Brouard)
One round later, Quevilly faced their league opponents from Orléans but the match had been postponed due to the cold weather. Marseille had already played, though, and thus the eager players from Quevilly knew they would face them in the quarters. But that was indeed the biggest problem; they forgot about the difficult game versus Orléans (2-1 in PSO). So Régis Brouard showed his players a video of Rick and Dick Hoyt, the father and his ill son who have mastered several Iron Mans together. Before hitting the play button, Régis told his players to have a further look at the look of the two protagonists. Afterwards his players were actually moved to tears and did take Orléans seriously.
Finally his players could play a team from the Ligue 1 again, this time in the quarters. This time Régis Brouard was willing to let his players forget about the attention of the media and get them totally focussed on the game. So he played them “Sultans of Swing” from Mark Knopfler and every player got a note with two quotes that should describe him. “One for the human, the other one for the player.” Again the former central midfielder had hit the right button. A sensational 3-2 win after penalty shoot-out let France go nuts.
Yet, before Rennes, Brouard had always moved his players (to tears) to assure success. Before the most important match of USQ’s younger history, he decided to totally surprise his players. So he made them laugh in the bus on the way to the stadium with photoshopped pictures of each player. He wanted to show them that they should stay who they are and not let the pressure demoralize them. A great move by the manager; his players won 2-1 in a thrilling game that was eventually decided by Laup in the dying seconds.
Hard to say what Brouard will show his players before the final in the Stade de France but it will surely work. Combined with Quevilly’s myth, the players, who have been in a luxurious training camp for one week, might be able to sensationally win the first cup in their history.
However, despite their amazing success in the Coupe de France, the amateurs from Quevilly have been struggling for a long time against relegation in their league. After their win against Angers in the round of 64, they couldn’t win 8 matches in the National. That only changed after showing Didier Deschamps’ Marseille up. It isn’t a matter of motivation, though, rather the problem that Quevilly, playing like a professional team, still hasn’t been able to get used to the way of playing in France’s best amateur league. While Ligue 1 teams are very well organized and often don’t already press forward deep in the opponents’ half, many amateur teams press forward on the whole pitch. Furthermore they are much more aggressive what doesn’t please to “The Old Lady” at all. Also, they are struggling against teams who are playing directly. Vanoukia perfectly sums up: “Against a Ligue 1, you have time to organize yourself in particular zones, unlike in the National where is pressing all over the pitch.”
Thus Quevilly have beaten the Ligue 1 sides with their own weapons. The advantage of being the underdogs has actually helped them a lot as well but the key to success is surely their manager. Régis Brouard has taught them very successful and, for an amateur club, extraordinary tactics. Not to forget his mind games with his players who have always perfectly reacted to those.
Before the final against Olympique Lyonnais, US Quevilly don’t have to lose anything. They have reached more than anybody would ever have thought. They have already become legends and immortal. Another sensational win against a Ligue 1 side would be above and beyond everything the world of football has seen yet…
ALLEZ US QUEVILLAIS!
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