Cup romance is French affair as Ludovic Giuly returns to take on mighty Monaco
Former international is back at his childhood club trying to topple the elite of Europe
Tuesday 21 January 2014
Ludovic Giuly is preparing for the match of his life. The 37-year-old has achieved more than most in his 20-year career, winning trophies in France, Italy and Spain. He played in and won the 2006 Champions League final, when Barcelona overcame Arsenal in Paris.
This is not the European Cup final, but the last 32 of the Coupe de France. What this game lacks in stakes, though, it makes up for in meaning. It is Monts d'Or Azergues Foot – a lower-league team also known as Chasselay – against Monaco.
Chasselay, a small town 15km (nine miles) north of Lyons, is Giuly's true footballing love, the club of his heart. He started his career for them as a teenager while his father Dominique – now the club vice-president – was still playing there.
The teenage Giuly left Chasselay for Olympique Lyonnais, and then for even better things, but he will be back in their ground, the Stade de Gerland, where he began his professional career. He is delighted to be back, but this has not been done for his benefit.
Jocelyn Fontanel, the president of Chasselay, said that television did not allow them to play the game at their tiny home ground – called, of course, the Stade Ludovic Giuly – because they did not have enough floodlights. He initially feared the Gerland would be too expensive, with insurance and security to pay, but the clamour was too high, the story too good.
Chasselay have existed in their current form only since 2005, the club being rebranded to MDA Foot five years after the original Chasselay side were merged with another local club. They currently play in the regionalised French fourth tier, the CFA Group B East. They are 13th out of the 16 teams in the division.
However, when you have already played for Roma, Barcelona, Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain, glamour is no longer the point. Giuly rejoined last summer after completing his final season in Ligue 1 with Lorient.
He had promised the club president, Gérard Leroy, who died in 2012, that he would come back. Giuly is now the honorary president, captain, star midfielder and the rest, but his contribution started long before.
"His support has been decisive in many ways," Fontanel revealed recently. "For 15 years he has helped us financially. And for the last year he has been wearing our colours. When he is on the pitch, we know that four or five opportunities will come up. He shows unfailing determination and is an example to others."
Chasselay have struggled in the league this season, but the cup has been a different story. They had to enter in the fourth round, in late September, when there were still 1,152 teams competing in it. The Ligue 1 teams entered in the ninth round, and Chasselay hosted FC Istres, of Ligue 2, earlier this month.
In the packed ground that takes his name, Giuly opened the scoring early in the second half, before the Malian international Cheick Fantamady Diarra equalised.
It went to penalties, for the third time in Chasselay's cup run, but Istres hit the bar twice and put one over. Giuly was down to take the fifth penalty but he did not need to. Chasselay had won the shoot-out 3-2.
Giuly broke into tears. "This is why I am still playing," he said, dedicating the win to the late president. "This is football and I live for it. I will die on the pitch. Nothing gives me emotions like this, except for my children."
Giuly had promised to give an old shirt of Lionel Messi's to Chasselay's goalscorer. Rather than giving it back to himself, he gave it to the club's coach, Stéphane Santini – the son of the former Tottenham manager Jacques– and one of Gerard Pique's to his assistant, Gil Poulet. Giuly has also promised to send his team-mates on holiday in Morocco if they win.
They will play Monaco, a club that has changed dramatically even in the 18 months since Giuly left them for Lorient. Claudio Ranieri's side are second in Ligue 1, thanks to Joao Moutinho, Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, Jérémy Toulalan and the rest.
They will probably one day do what Giuly did and win the European Cup. But they have to face the old master, "the magical imp" as he is known in France, playing for his home, his family and his first love.
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