When Montpellier Ruled France: A Look Back at the 2011/12 Ligue 1 Champions

Since the arrival of Qatari money, PSG have mostly dominated Ligue 1, but during the first few years of their Qatar Sports Investment takeover, it’s fair to say Les Parisiens struggled. In the 2011-12 campaign, the newly super-wealthy club spent €82 million under Carlo Ancelotti’s leadership. The Ligue 1 champions that year? Montpellier. Yes, La Paillade and manager Rene Girard stunned the footballing world to win their first-ever league title.


The 2011-2012 season would see the likes of Eden Hazard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang announce their presence as potential superstars. There was another young player at the heart of Montpellier’s title-winning season – Olivier Giroud. The forward had just missed out on promotion to Ligue 1 with Tours FC in 2008-09, when the club failed to mount another promotion charge the following season, it was inevitable he would leave.


Montpellier and Rene Girard came calling with a €2 million so ‘Le buteur de charme (The Charm Striker)’ was heading South. The club also brought in defensive reinforcements ahead of the 2011/12 season with Henri Bedimo and Hilton singing, the latter being so integral he ended up being included in the Ligue 1 team of the year. Other players in Montpellier’s title-winning squad included, sought-after young French midfielder Benjamin Stambouli, at the time multiple Premier League clubs were chasing the signature of the talented youngster.


He eventually signed for Tottenham in 2014 but endured a torrid time in North London and moved back to France with PSG the following year. Younes Belhanda was another young player who stood out during the title-winning season, he went on to win Goal of the Season and was also named in the Ligue 1 Team of the Season. His career sadly never really reached the anticipated heights after he departed La Paillade with the Moroccan struggling to live up to expectations.


A Nod to Loic Perrin and Other One-Club Men


Back in Paris, Les Parisiens started the season well, new signing Javier Pastore hit the ground running and was proving to be an inspired signing, Brazilian forward Nenê was also on top form throughout the season. By the end of November, PSG were sitting at the top of the table after picking up a comfortable 3-0 victory at Montpellier.


La Paillade did not fade away though, constantly chasing the Paris club, largely thanks to the goal-scoring antics of their star man Olivier Giroud, of course. The Montpellier talisman had 18 goal contributions in 18 appearances to his name by January, with 13 goals and 5 assists. Giroud was solely responsible for 13 of Montpellier’s points that season, it is fair to say they would have been lost without him.


The thing about Giroud is that it wasn’t just his goalscoring abilities that were so important to Montpellier, he worked tirelessly, chasing down every ball, battling for every header, and running the channels to create space for teammates such as Belhanda, John Utaka or Remy Cabella. This incredible work rate and lethal goalscoring capability meant that Premier League club Arsenal was taking note of his performances. 


Shortly after the winter break, Rene Girard had the opportunity to exact revenge on Ancelotti and PSG. Whilst they battled hard, they couldn’t quite manage to grab a victory at Parc des Princes, Montpellier headed home with a vital point from a 2-2 draw, nonetheless. PSG then surprised everyone by dropping points in three consecutive games in March, meaning the title race was very much on as Montpellier found themselves top of the league.


Olivier Giroud led the line with a passion and desire that seemed to drive his teammates on – he was determined the league title was not going to Paris this year. Giroud inspired his team to important victories against Marseille and Lille, a loss to Lorient though meant that the gap between La Paillade and Les Parisiens was cut to just two points. The title race was going down to the wire. In the final game of the season away to Auxerre, Girard’s men needed to avoid defeat.


Saint-Etienne: A Sleeping Giant In Freefall


In true underdog fashion, they made it difficult after going 1-0 down early in the game and a volatile Auxerre crowd didn’t help matters as they were guilty of constantly throwing objects onto the pitch which saw the game halted on multiple occasions. Girard ensured his team never lost sight of their aim though and a John Utaka double ensured that history was made, and the Ligue 1 title was Montpellier’s. 


The manager summed up his team’s title win perfectly by saying: “I think our triumph is a real shot in the arm for French football. It just goes to show that everyone can beat everyone, and that money isn’t the be-all and end-all. We’re a club of mates, a club that brings young players through and gives them a chance. At the end of the day, it’s worked out well for us. We played some great football, with a well-balanced team and I’m overwhelmed.”



It’s true, this team of youngsters and forgotten men had not only proven that hard work and talent could be victorious against all odds over the dazzling wealth of PSG, but they had made history, bringing the city its first-ever Ligue 1 title. The main man was undoubtedly Oliver Giroud. The prolific forward won the golden boot after scoring 21 goals in 36 appearances and also finished with 9 assists to his name.


His performances earned him a place in France’s Euro 2012 squad and a move to The Emirates as Arsene Wenger was suitably impressed. Giroud has gone on to play for the likes of Chelsea and AC Milan and become a World Cup winner with France, his goalscoring abilities are unquestionable, his work rate is never-ending and his desire to win drives everything he does. The 2011-2012 season was just the start, but what a start it was.


By: Bethany Limb / @bethlimb

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Baptiste Fernandez – Icon Sport