With Toulouse sitting 16th in Ligue 1, Hal Walker looks at the reasons behind the side’s struggles as they look to retain their top-flight status.
A 0-0 stalemate on Saturday at the Stade de la Licorne to fellow strugglers Amiens was damaging for Toulouse in the sense that they now sit just a solitary point above the relegation zone. Despite playing against 10 men for the last 15 minutes of the game, Toulouse were unable to muster any quality to earn a much-needed victory. The encounter was synonymous of their season as a whole so far, as a rather ominous shadow hangs over the club from south west France.
Having sacked Pascal Dupraz a month ago, the club moved to appoint former player Mickaёl Debève as his successor. Despite narrow victories earned in somewhat fortuitous circumstances – against an injury-ravaged Nice and a 10-man Troyes side – a mix of negative tactics and a consistent penchant to select experience over youth in the first XI, is a direct concern for the supporters. Crashing out of the Coupe de France at the hands of Ligue 2 side Bourg-en-Bresse has certainly done nothing to improve the mood at the club.
The general consensus among the French media and the club’s supporters is that the management seem compelled to prefer established players, primarily due to a direct fear of relegation as a result of previous counterproductive transfer windows.
Since selling prized goal-scorers Martin Braithwaite and Wissam Ben Yedder in the summers of 2016 and 2017 respectively, the club have not re-invested in the forward line; instead signing established midfielders on substantial wages for a club the size of Toulouse. Such recruits include the well-travelled Jimmy Durmaz, Yaya Sanogo, Ola Toivonen, Yannick Cahuzac, Giannelli Imbula and Max-Alain Gradel. Not only have the club failed to get the best out of their seasoned imports, but their transfer strategy has significantly stunted the growth of their promising youth products, including midfield talents like Alexis Blin, Yann Bodiger and promising defenders Issa Diop and Kelvin Amian. Teenage goalkeeper Alban Lafont is a marked exception- recently displaying an outstanding performance against PSG in a 1-0 defeat.
Negligence in the transfer market is seemingly being exacerbated by an over-emphasis on negative tactics that are notably unsuited to numerous individuals in the side. Debève’s arrival has come with a mindset to not concede rather than to score. Frequently deploying a 4-5-1 formation fails to make any use of attacking, pacey outlets like Gradel. That Toulouse are the second-lowest scorers in Ligue 1 reflects the predicament, in fact, only Caen have notched fewer goals this season.
A concurrent criticism of the club by large quarters of French media has been that the young talents within the side are not being allowed to grow or flourish in the current setup, particularly evident during the reign of Pascal Dupraz. After a miraculous escape from relegation in 2015/16, it was thought that highly-touted players such as Diop, Blin, Bodiger, and Amian would develop with the club’s ambitions under such a fiery, driven manager. Eighteen months on and the individuals have not grown to the level that many had hoped or anticipated, hampered by inconsistent tactics and a concerning lack of discipline.
Immediate measures will be taken in the short-term by Debève to ensure Toulouse stay in Ligue 1 this season, an objective that should be attainable given the relative quality of the side. However, if the club’s youth prospects cannot be properly integrated into a structured and cohesive system that promotes their development, it will be a question of when, rather than, if, Toulouse drop out of Ligue 1.
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