As someone who isn’t a huge fan of Ligue 1, I first heard the name “Saint-Étienne” when one of my lecturers in my community college is a huge fan of them.
You’ll probably recognise the guy inside the featured image, though. He’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, current Arsenal player who was the top goalscorer of the club during his stay with Les Verts (“the Greens” in French).
It may be a surprising fact to you, but Saint-Étienne used to be one of the best clubs in the country and has 10 Ligue 1 titles with them, more than anyone else. The current holders, Paris Saint-Germain? 7 only.
If you don’t recognise Saint-Étienne as a club, it’s not your fault to blame. In fact, this is why I, honestly, named them “a forgotten name probably in France”. Seriously, things have changed since they last won a big trophy.
I can summarise the situation in one sentence, though.
Saint-Étienne is now more like a lineup striving for a mid-table finish in the domestic league with a rare chance to participate in European football.
It all happened after Les Verts won the Coupe de la Ligue in 2013.
The club from Saint-Étienne sold a number of their young prospects with three of them being household names of the present days. Aubameyang aside, you may be shocked to hear that Payet and Matuidi used to play for them.
This is partially the main reason why they regressed. The other? The board have no ambition to formulate a plan for the team to become great again as PSG started to dominate the league following the influx of Qatari money to the Parisian club.
Staying in Ligue 1 is probably easier than that of pursuing a place in the Champions League, after all, from the perspective of the management, players and fans.
They did get ahold of quality veterans like current club captain Loïc Perrin, Kévin Monnet-Paquet, Stéphane Ruffier and Romain Hamouma (and loyal supporters).
Yet, it’s never enough for them to aim for a better position of the Ligue 1 table.
In Europe, the Greens did manage to advance to the knockout stages of the Europa League in the 2016/17 season. However, a 4-0 aggregated loss to eventual winners Manchester United proved that they’re not fully prepared for the challenge.
New additions last season, Debuchy and Subotić helped to bolster their defence. Under Jean-Louis Gasset, the Greens are now 5th of the table, but only if they play consistently they’ll get their reward – a place in, at least, the Europa League.
Provided that PSG are now the most powerful side of the Ligue 1 with Lyon and Marseille catching up, it is, without a doubt, that Saint-Étienne will be one of the fading sides of French football if they decide to remain stagnant.
After all, the foundation set by the founders of the club may fall apart if they aren’t careful enough. And I won’t be surprised to hear the news of Les Verts relegating to Ligue 2, provided that “failing to plan is planning to fail”.