Les Herbiers and Paris Saint-Germain - two clubs worlds apart meet in Coupe de France final
The two finalists are separated by more than 50 league places while the third tier club's annual revenue amounts to around half of Neymar's monthly salary
A couple of weekends ago, Sebastien Flochon travelled to the first major Cup final of his season. He was among the guests of honour at Atletico Madrid’s new Wanda Metroplitano stadium, and, after the final whistle, he was out on the pitch celebrating with the victors. He met Lionel Messi and joked he had learned some useful lessons from Barcelona’s 5-0 Copa del Rey triumph over Sevilla.
“Well, I picked up a few things on how to win a Cup final,” he smiled to his old friend Samuel Umititi, the Barcelona defender and France international who had invited Flochon to the game and arranged his tickets for him.
As kids, Umtiti and Flochon played important finals alongside one another, youth-level matches in the jersey of Olympqiue Lyonnais, where they passed through the academy together in teams of renowned potential and containing a high number of footballers who would go far as adult professionals. Safe to say Umtiti, a European championship finalist with France, a double winner this season with Barca, went further than Flochon.
But on Tuesday night, Umtiti will make sure he gives his old friend, the Flochon who he says taught him to swim and ride a bicycle when they were schoolboys, as much attention in his Cup final as Flochon paid to Umtiti’s.
This will likely be the only time Flochon, the 25 year-old midfielder, plays in one. It is scarcely credible that his club, Les Herbiers of the French National League, the third tier of the country’s football pyramid, have reached the final of the Coupe de France.
They meet Paris Saint-Germain in the Stade de France, in front of an expected crowd of 80,000. That’s 16 times the capacity of their own Massabielle arena in their home town, a place of 16,000 inhabitants in the west of the country.
And that’s just one small detail of how these Davids are dwarfed by the Goliaths of the capital in this glorious mis-match of a seasonal showdown.
Budgets? The PSG who have transformed the landscape of French club football since Qatari investors took a controlling stake in the club in 2011 operate on an annual budget conservatively quoted at around €500m (Dh2.2 billion). Les Herbiers’ collection of semi-professionals and full-timers have boosted this year’s coffers, thanks to their Cup run, to a little over €1.5m.
Player salaries there tend not to exceed €3,000 per month; Neymar, whom PSG smashed the world transfer fee record to sign for €222m last summer, earns close to €3m a month from his employers, excluding his independent commercial endorsements.
PSG, who breezed to their fifth Ligue 1 title in six years in mid-April without the Brazilian superstar – he is recovering from injury still – have won the last three editions of the Coupe de France.
Les Herbiers have made their remarkable progress to their first final while fending off the threat of relegation, and with perhaps a little good fortune, avoiding any contests with clubs from the top-flight of French football until now.
In the semi-final they eliminated Chambly, who are co-tenants of the National 1 league, and they reached the last eight via wins over second-division Auxerre and Lens.
Those victories alone represent twice as much giant-killing as Les Herbiers would have anticipated in a decade, even if the Coupe de France is an unusually fairytaled land in modern football.
Flochon is just about old enough to remember how Calais, of the fourth tier, reached the final in 2000, losing there to Nantes. Nine years ago the trophy was lifted by Guingamp, who were then a Ligue 2 club.
Back then, however, French football was not dominated by a juggernaut like the current PSG, a club whose recruitment over the last five years has caused alarm not only at Umtiti’s Barcelona, who sold Neymar against their will, but around all the grandees of European football.
On Tuesday night, PSG take on a club more than 50 places beneath them in their domestic hierarchy having beaten last year’s French champions, Monaco, 7-1 on the way to seizing back le championnat, and the same opponents 3-0 to win the League Cup final.
“We have maybe half a percent of a chance,” Les Herbiers’ Flochon said.
Updated: May 7, 2018 03:08 PM