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Inside FutbolInside Futbol


Aided by Former Manchester United Star Fabien Barthez, US Luzenac Make Splash

Attracting an attendance of just 800 is a pretty unremarkable achievement for most football clubs the world over. In fact, it would usually be considered a sign that things have gone horribly, terribly wrong. For Luzenac, newly-promoted from the French third division, quite the opposite is true. For this is a team from a town of just 693 people.

When winning promotion, a team will most often be looking to strengthen their squad and search for new players to help them stay in their new league. Sometimes they may even change coach, although this is a rarity, but as Southampton have shown in the Premier League, it can reap rewards. And even more rarely, a team will look to get themselves a new stadium. That is the situation facing Luzenac, now preparing for life in the second tier of French football.

Travelling in the south of France, not far from the border with Andorra and Spain, it would be easy to miss the tiny town of Luzenac. It is more of a dot than a landmark on the map. Their entire population could fit into the stadium of current Ligue 2 outfit Auxerre almost 40 times over. However, from next season the town will be noted for being the smallest to ever have a team in the professional ranks of French football after its club, US Luzenac, won promotion to France’s Ligue 2.

Luzenac’s rise is remarkable. Promotion was achieved following a 1-0 win at Boulogne, as fourth placed Red Star were defeated 2-0 by Dunquerke, meaning that the tiny club could not be caught with five games remaining. It caps an incredible decade and a half during which the club have found that there are no limits on ambition.

Much of their rise was, in a sense, unremarkable. Having floated between the sixth and fifth tiers of French football for most of their history since being founded in 1936, the then US Luzenac were promoted to the fifth tier in 2000. They won the league in 2005 and spent three years in the fourth division before claiming the title in the fourth. It was two years later that ambitious businessman Jerome Ducros, the owner of real estate firm JD Promotion, wanted to put the club on the map. And so he renamed the formerly known US Luzenac as Luzenac Ariege Pyrenees, to reflect the region they play in.

A year after he bought the club, he made his most significant signing: Former World Cup winner turned amateur racer Fabien Barthez. A native of the region, Barthez was happy to come on board and help Ducros’ dream of building up Luzenac, and brought in players who had failed to make a career for themselves higher up the pyramid, such as ex-Paris Saint-Germain and Troyes goalkeeper Quentin Westberg and former Toulouse midfielder Nicolas Dieuze. As Westberg has said, being called upon by the illustrious Barthez was an offer too good to refuse.

The great idea at work now was that in this quiet region of France, Luzenac can exploit the relative lack of big football names and become the second largest club in the south west behind Toulouse. And a third key driving force in their rise has been coach Christophe Pelissier. Pelissier has seen Luzenac through their promotion to the fourth, third and now second tiers. The 48-year-old spent much of his career at hometown club Revel, who he later went on to manage, and Muret. Both are situated in the region around Toulouse and so Pelissier is well versed in the geography of the local area. In that he is an ideal figurehead leading Luzenac forward into the professional divisions.

Pelissier has driven the club into Ligue 2 in remarkable fashion. They only just avoided relegation last year, but have built momentum during a campaign in which they have won by daring to be bold in a defensive division, where they are the top scorers with just 45 goals from 31 matches.

The club’s meteoric rise has even inspired a parody account on Twitter, which spreads information about the journey of this romantic club. One entry links Cristiano Ronaldo with a move there towards the end of his career, another mocks AJ Ajaccio’s recent relegation from Ligue 1, whilst a separate entry discussed the impending move to bring in David Moyes as their new coach. Although the individual behind the fake account presumably didn’t find it particularly amusing when the club informed him that they had complained to the police about their identity being “usurped”.

Looking to move into the ground of Stade Toulouse, talks appear to have floundered as Luzenac and Barthez now look to seal their most important deal of the summer. Wherever they end up, this team are sure to attract the biggest gates in their history as locals flock to see this upwardly mobile minnows take on some of French football’s biggest names next season. The chance to see this team with an unremarkable history take on the likes of Auxerre, Troyes and Valenciennes is a novelty that may prove fleeting for Pelissier’s side.

Joining the ranks of professional football will pose immense challenges to a side who take pride in having once reached the third round of the Coupe de France. There is a sense that such achievements may soon be becoming the norm for this nomadic outfit. This particular fairy tale doesn’t show any sign of ending any time soon.

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