From relegation battlers to high flyers: Brest fighting for European spots in French league

AP , Tuesday 19 Dec 2023

Since coming back from two goals down to stun last season’s runner-up Lens on the opening day of the season, Brest has continued to take the French league by surprise.

Brest s French defender #25 Jordan Le Cardinal (L) fights for the ball with Nantes French defender #26 Jaouen Hadjam during the French L1 football match between FC Nantes and Stade Brestois 29 (Brest) at the Stade de la Beaujoire Louis Fonteneau in Nantes, western France on December 17, 2023. AFP


The result? With one match left to play before the year-end break, the small club from the Brittany region dreams about Europe.

After 16 rounds of matches, Brest boasts its best record ever at this stage of the French league season, with eight wins, four draws and only four defeats for a total of 28 points.

That's just nine points fewer than leader Paris Saint-Germain and its armada of stars. And four points fewer than second-place Nice ahead of Brest's game against local rival Lorient on Wednesday.

For its final league game of the year, PSG hosts Metz. Nice plays Lens and third-place Monaco travels to Toulouse.

Not many experts could have imagined such an ascending trajectory for Brest when the struggling side appointed Eric Roy as its coach in January, with hopes that the 55-year-old would help the club remain in the top division.

At the time, Brest sat in the relegation zone, two points from safety. The moved seemed like a perilous gamble since Roy had been out of a coaching job for more than 10 years and a short stint at Nice. Less than a year later, Roy's has not only kept the club among the elite, but he has delivered much more than what was expected.

The coach has built a team renowned for its collective strength and ability to sustain long spells of pressure while being clinical up front.

"We’re moving forward and trying to cultivate (a culture) of humility and of hard work, without forgetting that we can have ambition,” Roy said.

At the club, no one embodies Brest's success better than Romain Del Castillo, who joined two years ago.

After several injury setbacks, the 27-year-old player born in Lyon is finally enjoying the best season of his career, with five goals and two assists so far.

Switching position from the left of the attack to a playmaking role has certainly helped the left-footed Del Castillo blossom, with his efficient dribbling game and excellent vision to create chances on display week in, week out.

“It’s up to me to be a technical leader on the pitch, but also in the dressing room,” Del Castillo said.

To build a stable future, Brest has recently renewed Del Castillo's contract, linking him to the club through to 2027.

Two other influential players — midfielder Pierre Lees-Melou and striker Jeremy Le Douaron — have also extended their deals.

Although Roy claims the club's ambition for the season remains to avoid relegation, the team can certainly have higher goals, with qualification for a European competition next season on everyone's mind.

“Europe seems a long way away,” Roy said. “I like to do things step by step. Today, we’re taking it easy, keeping our feet on the ground with a lot of humility. If there’s a change in goals, we’ll let you know.”

Roy may need to issue an update very soon.

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