September 25, 2022

Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose fail to make their way through. With the game now over 90 minutes, Bayern Munich still find themselves trailing 1-0 to Bordeaux and looking the barrel of a second defeat in as many weeks against the Ligue 1 champions, this time at the Allianz Arena.

Bayern’s last effort goes awry and the ball returns to the field. Anywhere will do for the men of Laurent Blanc. Hans-Jörg Butt rushes to meet him, but Marouane Chamakh clings to the ball first. Bordeaux’s top scorer rounded the goalkeeper with a deft touch before sinking into an empty net to double his side’s lead after Yoann Gourcuff opened the scoring in the first half. Bordeaux are now clearly top of their Champions League group and avenged their loss to Bayern in the 1996 UEFA Cup final.

Things were looking good for Bordeaux at the end of 2009. They topped their Champions League group, adding a win against Juventus to their double against Bayern. The team, which included Gourcuff, Chamakh and Argentinian striker Fernando Cavenaghi among many others, was on track to retain the French title. What followed over the next five months was a crippling meltdown. They fell to sixth in the league – missing out on Europe entirely – and lost to Marseille in the Coupe de la Ligue final, leading to a summer exodus of their stars and manager.

As sour as that spring was, however, it pales in comparison to the downward spiral that Bordeaux experienced in the decade that followed. Bordeaux is now on the verge of bankruptcy. Earlier this month, the DNCG – the financial regulator of French football – decided the club could not afford to see out next season. As a result, they have demoted Bordeaux to the third tier of French football, pending an appeal hearing next week.

To get there, Bordeaux chained a litany of calamitous seasons, each worse than the last, supporting heckling, changes of direction and incompetence at every level. In the early years of their slide, there were brief moments of respite. Admirable top mid-table finishes under coach Francis Gillot kept the ship afloat through a period of transfer window austerity. Undoubtedly, the peak came in 2013 when they won the Coupe de France final against Evian – which, in a classic case of nominative determinism, was liquidated a few years later.

These years marked the beginning of Bordeaux’s role as the comic relief of Ligue 1. On a cold night in October 2013, Serge the lama was kidnapped from a circus and led into the city by a group of drunken students, becoming an internet sensation. The club decided to capitalize on the animal’s popularity in their next home game, parading him around the pitch before losing 3-0 to Nantes. Another questionable moment was when midfielder Andre Poko was fined and then expelled from the club after taking a selfie while smoking shisha while wearing his Marseille rivals’ shirt.

The proceedings took an extremely acute turn for the worse during the 2017-18 season, the roller coaster of a campaign. A series of cataclysmic results in the fall led to manager Jocelyn Gourvennec being sacked at the start of the year. Club captain Jérémy Toulalan terminated his contract in protest. Faced with an unstable situation, Bordeaux decided to fan the flames of chaos by signing Gus Poyet. The Uruguayan’s passionate management of men seemed to be working, despite the threadbare squad at his disposal. He brought the club back to Europe after a spectacular second half of the season.

Behind the scenes, however, a change of ownership was underway. The long-time owners of M6 wanted to hand over management of the club, which had been unprofitable for several years, to a pair of safe hands. Negotiations with US investment fund GACP were confirmed, but a sale did not materialize until November 2018, 14 months after initial contact.

The shutdown has affected the club’s transfer deals as no signings were made until August, following the £36.5m sale of Brazilian winger Malcom. Famously, the striker was officially announced as a Roma player and was flying to Italy when Barcelona’s 11th-hour bid was accepted, much to the Giallorossi’s dismay. Other players left. Local striker Gaёtan Laborde has been sold to Montpellier despite Poyet specifically telling the board not to let him go, prompting a volcanic press conference after a Europa League qualifier, as Poyet qualified the club of “shame” and claimed they didn’t have the “cojonesto tell him the truth.

After Poyet’s sacking was confirmed the following morning, the club courted Thierry Henry for the job of manager, eventually opting for the return of Ricardo, who had previously been in charge in the mid-2000s. the Brazilian didn’t have the required coaching license, physio Eric Bedouet stepped in (again) in an interim position that lasted until Paulo Sousa arrived in 2019.

Sousa oversaw a 12th-place finish in the 2019-20 season, which was cut short by the pandemic, before Jean-Louis Gasset – Blanc’s former assistant – took over the reins. Meanwhile, GACP and Chairman Joe daGrosa have been forced out as their partners and majority shareholders, King Street, have bought out their minority stake. Upon his arrival in 2018, the confident DaGrosa had set himself the goal of returning to the Champions League within three years. His plan did not materialize.

Bordeaux fans enjoy their journey to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2010. Photography: Nicolas Tucat/AFP/Getty Images

During the 2020-21 season, French football has been battered by the financial impact of the pandemic, the premature end of the previous season and the collapse of their broadcast rights deal. Bordeaux’s already precarious situation worsened towards the end of the campaign when, having avoided relegation, the owners indicated that they would no longer invest in the club.

The atmosphere, already tense amid protests by supporters against club president Frédéric Longuépée, took a nosedive. The ensuing turmoil saw the club temporarily demoted to Ligue 2, while a host of takeover bids emerged. The winner was Gérard Lopez, a Spanish-Luxembourgish businessman who had just left Lille unceremoniously amid heavy debts. Lopez, a Conservative party donor and associate of Vladimir Putin, is currently facing forgery charges in Luxembourg, allegations he denies.

This season has impressively managed to top all the others for pure mayhem. Swiss manager Vladimir Petković was signed for what turned out to be six months, while the squad was reshuffled with eight panic buys. On the pitch, Bordeaux finished last in Ligue 1, conceding a comical 91 goals in the process, the only highlight being a 10-0 Coupe de France victory against a side from the overseas island territory of Mayotte.

The club have dumped their shirt sponsor, an online betting company, for making jokes at their expense on social media. A rift between the ultras backed by Lopez and Benedict Costil exploded in a loss to Montpellier at nine, as the goalkeeper argued with the leader of the supporters’ group, who later accused the player of racism. The club’s decision to get rid of experienced players such as Costil and Laurent Koscielny did nothing to help their sad situation. Getting rid of Koscielny was particularly difficult given the pharaonic contract that lured him to the club from Arsenal. Instead of selling him or terminating his contract, the club gave him an ambassadorial role to complete his five-year contract.

Talks are ongoing between Lopez and creditors over the club’s debts. The €10m contribution from Lopez Jogo Bonito’s company, the sale of a stake in Ligue 1 broadcasting rights and relegation parachute payments should go a long way to easing the problem – but the DNCG wants the deficit is made up immediately. Bordeaux have a week to cobble together €40m, or at least present a credible roadmap on how they can raise that sum. Lopez is desperate to avoid the third tier, saying: “With its infrastructure and costs, this club cannot survive in National 1.” There are basically two possible outcomes: either the club remains in Ligue 2 or it ceases to exist.

French football is no stranger to a fallen giant, but to see Bordeaux – the six-time French champions who were once home to Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Zinedine Zidane – wither away into insignificance would be the biggest blow yet. As an increasing number of clubs are sold amid the financial recovery of Ligue 1, the case of Bordeaux shows how fragile the established order of French football can be despite this incipient gold rush, as well as the damages that the sale to the wrong bidder may inflict.

Bayern Munich, meanwhile, have just won their 10th successive Bundesliga title.