Football Features

How Saint-Etienne could have lined up if they hadn’t sold their star players

By Squawka News

Saint Etienne best players: How Ligue 1 club could have lined up

Published: 14:03, 30 March 2020

Saint-Etienne dominated France’s top flight throughout the 1960s and 70s, and have won a whopping 10 Ligue 1 titles.

Les Verts, who are currently managed by Claude Puel, haven’t contested the Ligue 1 title for a number of years now, but they’re usually among a cluster of sides battling it out for a European spot.

Despite not being able to compete on the level that they once did, their historical stature and reputation has still helped them develop, sign and – unfortunately for them – sell some outstanding players.

Saint-Etienne is a club once graced by legends such as Aime Jacquet, Jacques Santini, Laurent Blanc and Michel Platini, while they’ve continued to breed excellent footballers right up until the current day.

One of the club’s more recent successes came during the 2007-08 season when they finished fifth in Ligue 1, and qualified for the Uefa Cup for the first time since 1982. The side featured a number of very familiar youngsters that you would certainly recognise now.

In April 2013, Saint-Etienne lifted the French League Cup, their first major domestic trophy for 30 years. In terms of league finishes, meanwhile, the last five years have seen the club more or less bounce between seventh and fourth.

Unfortunately, due to their financial situation, many of the first-class players they do develop or unearth normally don’t stay too long, and are shipped off to one of their richer domestic rivals or an elite club on the continent.

But looking at what might’ve been, here’s what Saint-Etienne’s side could look like if they hadn’t sold any of their star players….

GK: Stephane Ruffier

Age: 33

Current club: Saint-Etienne

Games played for Saint-Etienne: 383

Stephane Ruffier has kept 141 clean sheets for Saint-Etienne since arriving at the club in 2011. After developing through the Monaco youth academy, he spent six years with the club before signing for Les Verts.

He’s developed into a fine shot-stopper, and has made three appearances for the France national team as well as gathering the attention of a number of top European sides.

RB: Kurt Zouma

Saint Etienne best players: How Ligue 1 club could have lined up

Age: 25

Current club: Chelsea

Games played for Saint-Etienne: 73

A product of the Saint-Etienne youth academy, Kurt Zouma originally played as a right winger before developing into a versatile defender. He was promoted to the first-team when he was just 16, and made his professional debut in 2011.

Clearly gifted, he was snapped up by Chelsea for a reported £12 million in January 2014, but was sent back to the club on loan for the remainder of the 2013-14 campaign in order to continue his development.

Zouma now plays regularly under Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge after enjoying loan spells at Stoke City and Everton.

CB: Paul Baysse

Age: 31

Current club: Bordeaux

Games played for Saint-Etienne: 18

Paul Baysse was given his big opportunity by Saint-Etienne in 2013 after spending the vast majority of his career in Ligue 2 with Sedan and then Brest, but for whatever reason, the move just didn’t work out for either party.

The Bordeaux academy graduate made only nine Ligue 1 appearances during his two seasons with Saint-Etienne, but after moving to Nice in 2015 he was seen as a revelation, emerging as one of French football’s best defenders.

Baysse’s career has dipped somewhat since departing Saint-Etienne. He now plays for Bordeaux.

CB: Loic Perrin

Saint Etienne best players: How Ligue 1 club could have lined up

Age: 34

Current club: Saint-Etienne

Games played for Saint-Etienne: 469

A true Saint-Etienne legend, Loic Perrin has surpassed 400 competitive games for the French side, and has spent his entire career at the club.

A versatile defender who can also play as a holding midfielder, the 34-year-old is the club captain and has often been regarded as one of the best defenders in Ligue 1.

If France weren’t so well-stocked in that area of the pitch, Perrin would almost certainly have earned international recognition for his stellar displays down the years.

LB: Faouzi Ghoulam

Age: 29

Current club: Napoli

Games played for Saint-Etienne: 97

Another Saint-Etienne youth product who went on to establish himself in the first-team, Faouzi Ghoulam spent four years at the club and was a member of the side that lifted the Coupe de la Ligue title in 2013.

He moved to Napoli shortly afterward and has established himself as a first-choice regular under Maurizio Sarri but struggled under Carlo Ancelotti before Gennaro Gattuso took charge.

Despite featuring for France at youth level, Ghoulam is an Algeria international and represented his country at the 2014 World Cup.

CM: Blaise Matuidi

Saint Etienne best players: How Ligue 1 club could have lined up

Age: 32

Current club: Juventus

Games played for Saint-Etienne: 154

One of the best central midfielders in world football, Blaise Matuidi learned his trade at Saint-Etienne after signing for the club in 2007 from Troyes.

Matuidi is known for his lung-busting runs from box-to-box for Juventus, but while at Saint-Etienne he was predominantly used as a holding midfielder in front of the back four.

Matuidi played a key, albeit understated, role in France‘s World Cup triumph in Russia in 2018.

CM: Fredy Guarin

Age: 33

Current club: Vasco da Gama

Games played for Saint-Etienne: 39

Saint-Etienne brought Fredy Guarin to Europe, signing the midfielder on loan from Colombian side Envigado in 2006 before buying him outright the following year.

He only lasted one more season in France before his talented performances were spotted by Portuguese giants Porto, who signed him in 2008.

He went on to stay in Portugal for four years, before moving to Inter Milan and then, eventually, on to the Chinese Super League. You can now find him in Brazil where he’s representing Vasco da Gama.

CM: Josuha Guilavogui

Saint Etienne best players: How Ligue 1 club could have lined up

Age: 29

Current club: Wolfsburg

Games played for Saint-Etienne: 120

Another Saint-Etienne youth product, Josuha Guilavogui spent four years at the club and made over 100 appearances.

He scored nine goals and grabbed seven assists during his time playing for Les Verts, and earned a big move to Atletico Madrid in 2013, but was loaned back to Saint-Etienne in 2014 after failing to make the grade under Diego Simeone.

After returning to the Spanish capital, Guilavogui joined Wolfsburg with whom he won the DFB-Pokal.

FW: Dimitri Payet

Age: 33

Current club: Marseille

Games played for Saint-Etienne: 148

Dimitri Payet has been well-travelled during his career so far, but it was at Saint-Etienne that the mercurial playmaker spent the longest amount of time, making just shy of 150 appearances in their green and white shirt.

After four years at Saint-Etienne, Payet moved on to join Lille in 2011, fresh after their Ligue 1 title win before joining Marseille a couple of years later.

While at Marseille, Payet developed into one of Europe’s finest attacking midfielders – a reputation that he enhanced during a spellbinding 18-month spell with West Ham. He’s now back at Marseille after an acrimonious end to his time in east London.

FW: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Saint Etienne best players: How Ligue 1 club could have lined up

Age: 30

Current club: Arsenal

Games played for Saint-Etienne: 96

Saint-Etienne deserve a lot of credit for showing faith in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as it’s fair to say the early years of his career were pretty unremarkable.

Having been discarded by AC Milan, Aubameyang had mixed fortunes during loan spells with Dijon, Lille and Monaco, but exploded into life at Saint-Etienne, scoring 41 goals in 96 games in all competitions.

Borussia Dortmund signed him as Robert Lewandowski’s replacement in 2013, and he’s since flourished into one of the world’s deadliest front-men, scoring 141 goals in 213 matches for BVB and has bagged 20 goals in 32 games for the Gunners this season.

ST: Bafetimbi Gomis

Age: 34

Current club: Al-Hilal

Games played for Saint-Etienne: 159

Bafetimbi Gomis was a product of Saint-Etienne’s youth system, and scored 49 goals in 159 games after breaking into the first-team aged 19.

The towering, muscular striker was signed by big rivals Lyon in 2009, and after a tricky start at the Stade Gerland eventually proved himself, culminating in a move to Swansea City.

After spells with Marseille and Galatasaray, Gomis is leading the line for Saudi Arabian champions Al-Hilal.

Bench:

Carlos Kameni, Kevin Mirallas, Gelson Fernandez, Augusto Fernandez, Didier Zokora, Yohan Mollo, Max Gradel.