What Went Wrong for Angers This Season

Angers SCO’s 2022/23 season will go down as one of the worst by any team in the history of the French top flight. The end result of a plague spanning years fuelled by controversies, mistakes and mismanagement that has engulfed this once quiet, stable Ligue 1 outfit.


For the majority of campaigns following their return to the top tier in 2015, Angers managed to comfortably confirm their maintenance for the following season without much fuss or trouble. A large part of this overachieving, despite the odds against them, was the ability to grind out results when they were most needed.


The main components in this power were the pragmatism and experience of the then head coach, Stéphane Moulin, combined with the wealth of experience and nous on the field from veterans of club such as Ismaël Traore and Thomas Mangani. These characters were leaders both on and off the pitch who could drive their teammates to hold firm and they themselves produce vital goals or assists.


However all golden eras come to an end and for Le SCO almost all of these experienced heads left in the summer of 2022 after their contracts expired with supposed contract renewals mishandled and delayed for too long. By this point the mood at the club had turned more sour and gloomy than it ever it had been for these icons of the club who had adorned its black and white colours for many years.


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The key therefore for the transfer window was to somehow fill these holes of character and leadership in the squad whilst finding adequate replacements in these positions. A task that proved a nigh-on implausible and now deemed a complete failure. In came players like Miha Blažič, a less battle-hardened central defender, with his time in Hungary for Ferencváros spent at the top of the table, the demands of playing for a lesser team in a very physical league proved too much for him to adapt to.


Nabil Bentaleb, signed in January of 2022, had shown technical leadership on the pitch and was given the captains armband for this campaign. One of only a few players who’ve emerged from this season without much damage to their reputation. Playing at the base of midfield is usually associated with being the linchpin, an individual present to provide a solid base for the players around them to develop and trust in.


However, the Algerian would often attempt intricate and daring passes where there was little need and pepper long-range efforts with better options available. He is a player way beyond the level of a team like Angers and this became the problem. His struggle to adapt for his teammates who for the most part, weren’t at the same level technically had an adverse effect on the teams overall performance too often. The curse of being too good for your own team perhaps.


During the World Cup break the then coach, Gerald Baticle was eventually dismissed from the position as head coach. A decision that came all too late as a month prior the President, Saïd Chabane, stated that Baticle would be the Angers coach for the whole season. This appeared to avoid a clear failure of Baticle to invigorate or improve the sides hopes of survival.


The head coach role was passed to the head of the academy and reserve coach, Abdel Bouhazama, days after a revealing article by Ouest-France which claimed to expose the Franco-Moroccans “management by terror” style while head of the academy. Bouhazama failed to restart the motor on an already sinking ship.


His final match as head coach, a 5-0 loss to Montpellier, was voted the worst of the many losses in 2022/23 by Angers supporters via a Twitter poll for SCO faithful by Depuis La Butte. Soon after this result, inappropriate sexist comments made by Bouhazama during the pre-match talk were uncovered to the press and the coach resigned shortly after.


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In stepped Alexandre Dujeux, former assistant of Baticle. He was able to stop a dumbfounding winless run from September to April with a 1-0 win over Lille. While the form under Dujeux was still that of a relegation candidate there’s been a less gloomy atmosphere around the performances.


The talents of the Angers youth setup such as Jean-Mattéo Bahoya and Justin-Noël Kalumba started to receive more minutes; giving Angers supporters a reason to watch their side’s matches even if not for the results. The Angers B team are one of the very few reserve sides that compete in the highest level possible, the French 4th tier.


The U19 SCO side also won their league group phase this season only to be knocked out by the behemoth of the PSG U19 side 3-2 in the play-offs for the UEFA Youth League qualification. It is clear there is plenty of potential in the players coming from a new youth system only rebuilt in 2014, however. Very few seem to break through to the first team and even fewer are given minutes on the pitch. One of the focuses of the rebuild at Angers should be to strengthen the bridge between the academy and the first team.


Many Angers supporters began to stage protests and hold banners denouncing president Chabane and his reign which, in the last few years, has been mired by controversy and legal action from former employers of the club as well as Chabane’s own legal battles. An article by the French outfit SoFoot investigated the reign of terror that the Algerian businessman supposedly presided over at Angers. Everything from vetoing purchases of highlighters for secretaries to suspicions of hidden microphones in the offices of the clubs, La Baumette complex. He had resigned as president the previous week, with his son, Romain, replacing him.


With 8 points at the half-way point of the season it was abundantly clear that Angers were all but doomed to relegation. Yet the club kept denying the inevitable with sporting director, Laurent Boissier, in February stating he still had belief the club could turn their season around. It took almost a mathematical impossibility to come before they began to utter the words of Ligue 2. The naivety and delusion that has festered during these failing recent years.


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That eight-point total was by all accounts, disproportionate to the actual performances from the side. Angers drew against Lorient in early February, ending a record run of 13 straight losses in the league. The expected points total through the data provider, Understat, up to this point had Angers earning 22 points based.


This stark underperformance was rooted in an extreme lack of decisiveness in attack and a weak, disjointed defence. Bound together by an all-encompassing confidence deficiency heralded only one thing. The damage was done in 2022 and if they weren’t already playing like a side destined for the drop, Le SCO’s performances into the new year certainly confirmed that belief.


The club were handed a one-year recruitment ban by CAS, following an investigation into the problematic signing of Ilyes Chetti on a free transfer, one which was orchestrated by Chabane himself. The club has appealed to suspend this for a year given their circumstances with relegation to Ligue 2.


The expected sales of Nabil Bentaleb, Batista Mendy and likely Himad Abdelli, 13 players with contracts expiring and many youth talents still on trainee contracts, if the appeal for a suspension is not successful this could turn the page to an even darker and frightening path than that which was left in Ligue 1.


To many that follow the club, regardless of Ligue 2, they would like nothing more than to see a healthy, stable and likable ambiance once again on the banks of the Loire River. The road to redemption could become a long and arduous ordeal for a side that were, for a brief time, a staple in the Ligue 1 calendar.


By: Thomas Wiseman / @WYSAF1

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Hugo Pfeiffer / Icon Sport