Olivier Pickeu and Angers: An ugly divorce to end a fruitful marriage

The Angers SCO Sporting Director, Olivier Pickeu, was dismissed by the club on the 10th of March. He has been at the centre of the club’s fortunes since joining in 2006. From 2011 till today, the same three people have occupied the standout positions at the club. President Saïd Chabane, Head Coach Stéphane Moulin and Pickeu.

Despite their small annual budget (€33m for 2019/20), Le SCO have become a Ligue 1 regular since their dramatic promotion in 2015 and have consistently produced strong talented individuals season after season.

So why the sudden decision to remove one of the key components to their success? In the following 2000 or so words, I will attempt to answer that question and where it leaves one of Ligue 1’s most intriguing clubs.

Obviously, there will be more information to come out but this is my summary to date. In this piece I will source Romain Molina’s recent exposure video on Angers, local reporting from the regional newspapers predominantly Ouest-France, along with my own view as an Angers supporter alongside those who are closer to the club both geographically and historically.


We start on February 5th. Angers president, Saïd Chabane, was taken into police custody after allegations of sexual assault against current and former employees of the club. From a local source I spoke to in Angers, there were suspicions of Chabane and someone who worked at the club has previously mentioned some of his uncomfortable comments/actions but we’ll wait for the outcome of the investigations.

It is also worth noting that Pickeu knows the alleged victims and is most likely supporting them through this time. The president and his entourage saw Pickeu as disloyal with his lack of activity and comments to the media, a tactic to disassociate himself with the topic.

On Monday 9th of March the club announced a new Deputy President, Fabrice Favetto-Bon, on the basis that Chabane will take a step back from his current role in light of these allegations. In their press conference, Chabane mentioned Pickeu and stated that he will still be responsible for the sporting policy, the new deputy president would be more in a supervisory role

The following day, Pickeu was suspended by the club on a conservative basis. It’s no secret that Chabane and Pickeu have never been on the best of terms and have clashed in the past most recently on the Reine-AdélaÏde transfer to Lyon.

Pickeu and Moulin wanted to keep the player, the latter had worked hard over the summer to develop a system that maximized the player’s quality. After the transfer, Moulin apparently put his job on the line in order to keep the star player, Baptiste Santamaria.

The Chabane-Pickeu relationship has come to a breaking point, the exact reason for such a sudden dismissal is unknown at present but it has been on the cards for a while. Over the past few years, especially since promotion, Pickeu’s influence has slowly begun to diminish. The main force behind this? Chabane. The appointment of this new Deputy President has most likely aligned with this trend. One of Pickeu’s strong supporters internally, former Vice President Bertrand Baudaire who left last summer, had this to say:

“The club is Olivier Pickeu. If SCO has to thank someone, it’s him: he built everything.”
 
It’s important to remember that Chabane was never involved in football before he took over (not sure if he even likes football) it was Pickeu and others within the club that educated and supported Chabane into this new landscape. The former Angers President, Willy Bernard, went to prison for money laundering using the clubs accounts.

He had to find a buyer and Chabane, who had recently become an investor at the club, purchased Bernard’s shares in 2011. Bernard brought Pickeu in 2006, when the club was in a very different state than it is today. They had just been relegated into the 3rd tier and purchased for €700,000 by Bernard.

With such limited resources, Pickeu was practically the one man show who directed a huge amount at the club from communication to marketing and shirt designs. His role was a General Manager but as the year’s progressed, especially after promotion to Ligue 1, his role became more of a Sporting Director as Chabane began to compartmentalize. 

Pickeu was not involved in the new stadium redesign and no longer had a say in the commercial and public relations aspect. Chabane, now almost 9 years on from his purchase of the club, knows much more about the workings of football. His influence can be seen in something as little as when a new player signs, Chabane announces it on his twitter account before the club does.

The former head of recruitment, Axel Lablatinière, said this following the recent news:

“Olivier carried the club at arm’s length, he went through all the storms. We helped the president take the reins because he knew nothing about football and now there is no one left”

Chabane is known for being extremely tight with money, Angers have made large amounts of profit from transfers but the majority of which hasn’t seen reinvestment in the squad or club structure. Around 39% of the transfer revenue made since promotion has been directly reinvested into the squad.

The last two seasons have seen a drop below that average, in 18/19 the reinvestment was 21% and 19/20, 30%. The record transfer is still only €4m and the club have only ever spent north of €2 million four times, sometimes the departures demand significant reinvestment. Angers are now an established Ligue 1 club but the transfer investment sometimes reflects that of a club unsure of whether they can survive.

Of course it’s important to factor as Molina mentions, that Pickeu takes a 5% cut of every transfer fee and agents get involved and take their cuts as well. Pickeu’s 5% was something agreed in his open-ended contract signed before Chabane was president. Everyone knew about this and it didn’t seem that it caused any friction with anyone else but Chabane.

In the end it’s a case of weighing up the costs and benefits of what Pickeu has done and continues to do at the club. While his activity and profile has been revealed to be not as clean as people thought, unfortunately it is not something out of the ordinary in football.

One the other hand, as the transfer sums start to grow over time you can see why Chabane would have issues with Pickeu taking a big sum of money along with his agents.

Molina notes that Chabane is stingy with the salaries of employees, youth development an easy example would be the pain of the staff needing to go to him to give the OK for a video analyst for the youth players.

Pickeu and Moulin have grown and developed alongside the club which now sits with its best point total after match day 28 than in any other of their recent seasons in Ligue 1.

Moulin and Pickeu wanted to keep JRA because they knew that with him, Angers could really push further. Chabane appears to be stuck using his old ideals and ways of operating which could potentially become a restriction on how the club develops in the long term if it hasn’t already.
 
Molina stated that with the recruitment and promoting of youth players it was mainly a 3-way battle between elements at the club. Chabane has his Algerian network. The head of the youth development centre, Bouhazama, has his favourite players and also his “people” inside the club.

Finally, you have Pickeu with people who are close with him at the club and his agents. All of these attempting to push players for their own agendas and interests. It must be a nightmare for Moulin because sometimes he won’t want these players.

Molina does like Leclerc (current head of recruitment since Feb 2019) apparently he doesn’t have the tolerance for this kind of thing to happen and won’t allow young players to take preference based on who their agents are, Molina says this is an issue at Angers.

It’s true that great work done by the club, recruitment in particular, should not be solely credited to Pickeu. More focus should go towards people like Axel Lablatinière who was head of recruitment from 2011 -2019 and brought in players like Ekambi and pushed hard for JRA. The current head of recruitment, Leclerc, originally joined Lablatinière’s recruitment team of two in 2013.

He came from Saint Poitevin, the same club as a certain Nicolas Pépé and so recommended him to Pickeu. Lablatinière left last February without any official reason. Although he didn’t get on too much with Pickeu he had a falling out with the head of youth development, Bouhazama. Another member of the recruitment team, Eudeline (now sporting director at Caen) left in June as part of the clubs restructuring when Lablatinière left.

Chabane wasn’t the one to tell Pickeu of his dismissal, he sent the new Deputy President on his first day to tell him face to face, Pickeu left soon after. Chabane and Favetto-Bon then went to the locker room and gave the news to the players who were obviously shocked and angry. Moulin tried to speak in front of his players but wasn’t able to finish because of how emotional he was.

Almost all the supporters are behind Pickeu on this, especially as there has been zero official communication from the club and no one knows what exactly triggered this. He is also well liked within the staff and the players.

 “When it was necessary to speak in front of the group when the results were worse, he did not hesitate. He played his role of manager thoroughly” – Alex Letellier (former goalkeeper)

After the most recent win over Nantes, the players were heard beginning to chant “President, president” for Pickeu in the changing room. Ever since the announcement, there seems to be emerging tension of Pro-Chabane or Pro-Pickeu within staff and also in the dressing room.

Pickeu is fundamentally the soul of the club and has been influential in its rise through the years, he could have left at points to bigger clubs but he’s stayed committed to the project. When linked to Monaco and Saint-Etienne in recent years, Chabane didn’t like how Pickeu dealt with the rumours as he didn’t exactly deny interest.

After the JRA transfer, Pickeu suspected it could be his last year so he started talking about how well run Angers are and the great work he’s done, his friends in the media helped with this.

We will find out more in few days. A group of supporters, Le Magic SCOP, were due to meet with the club on Friday the 20th of March for a long-scheduled meeting but this has been delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Interestingly enough, on the same day, Pickeu’s pre-exit interview did go ahead, lasting only 15 minutes and now Pickeu awaits a letter indicating the final decision. There is now tremendous sense of uncertainty because Pickeu shared a great connection to the players; how much will his departure affect their thoughts on moving away?

Looking for a Pickeu replacement is another worry, losing Lablatinière had an effect, you can see the transfers last summer weren’t exactly to an Angers standard. Taking Pickeu out of the equation leaves a huge cavity from a sporting and personality perspective.

On that personal topic, Pickeu’s relationship with the supporters has always been overwhelmingly positive. Whenever the club has been in a difficult situation, Pickeu has always praised and showed immense gratitude towards the Angers faithful; something rarely heard from Chabane.

A perfect example of this relationship comes in the form of a story I was told by an Angers supporter. The complex, La Baumatte, where the club is based is easily accessible; you can drive into the car park and watch the players train and spot club staff walking past.

Last November, a group of fans stopped Pickeu and asked for a chat, Pickeu spent almost an hour discussing new contracts for players and rumours surrounding his departure. He reassured the fans that he was totally focused on the project and was optimistic of future, hoping that Chabane gives him the green light to aim for European football.

A humble scenario, one that isn’t uncommon and reflects the rooted and family feel for the Pickeu and Angers. The supporters disdain for Chabane have already produced recent a story when a fan, who has been supporting the club since the 60s, was arrested because he was chanting down a megaphone “Chabane, without Pickeu, you are nothing.”

For Moulin, the situation must be difficult to process. Having a colleague that you have worked alongside for almost 15 years, who promoted you to the first team coach, ripped out without explanation must be devastating. Moulin appears to be a bystander in this battle between Pickeu, Chabane and other powers within the club.

He usually doesn’t converse that much with Chabane because Pickeu is supposed to be the intermediary but Moulin said in a 2018 interview that him and Chabane have a deep “mutual respect and mutual trust”. Moulin is an Angers legend and supporters would rather be relegated with him than watch another manager (Ligue 1 has a poor crop of them that continue to hop between clubs) take over.

As unfortunate as the circumstances are, the break in the season due to the outbreak of COVID-19 has perhaps come at the right time which sounds very morbid. Hopefully this time allows explanation and the restructuring to take place and reassurances to the staff that their place is not in jeopardy.

A relevant example would be that Pickeu’s brother, Benoît, is the fitness coach for the first team and has been in that position for over a dozen years. Is his role now under threat because of his sibling’s departure? Not only will the staff need assurances but the supporters, who have all but turned against the perceived authoritarian rule of Chabane.

I visited Angers at the beginning of March, it was a very peaceful and calm city with a striking architectural blend of the medieval and the modern. The football club reflects this with its veteran legends accompanied by its electrifying youth talent. There are many great stories and a family feel encompasses the Stade Raymond Kopa, the staff, players and support.

There is a popular hashtag spread by Scoistes on twitter #LaDalleAngevine, which on the pitch refers to the hunger and determination of the players. That determination could very well be key, as the club takes the first step of a new era without the “Big OP.”

A thought has remained in my mind. The club without Chabane is still Angers however without Pickeu, Le SCO has a wound in it’s heart. The question is, will it heal?

By: Thomas Wiseman

Photo: Gabriel Fraga