By Leo Linden
Many of the top European league have experienced a major reshuffling process this season, and that has allowed some of the traditionally lower-lying sides to make a run up the table. In France, En Avant de Guingamp –– simply known as Guingamp –– have taken full advantage of this and are putting up a fight in the upper echelons of Ligue 1. The club started from humble beginnings and has progressed slowly up the French footballing pyramid throughout their lengthy history, but is now building a foundation that might afford them some longevity in the top flight. As with all small sides, there are warning signs that could hamper them in the long run, but for now, Guingamp have their eyes squarely set on European qualification.
Founded over 100 years ago in 1912, Guingamp started as an amateur team that struggled to gain traction in the French footballing system. For the first 60 years of their existence, Guingamp couldn’t break free of the bottom rungs of the pyramid, and it wasn’t until 1976 that they finally earned their first promotion to Ligue 3, still two steps away from the top flight. They followed that up the next year even more impressively, earning an instant promotion to the second tier.
At the time, this was a great achievement for the club, which was still retaining its amateur status and would continue to do so all the way until 1984, when it became fully professional for the first time.
However, the change in status at the club did not immediately vault Guingamp forward as they instead continued to trudge through the second and third flights. That was the case until 1995, when, for the first time in club history, Guingamp earned promotion to Ligue 1.
Amazingly, Guingamp earned a spot the next year in the UEFA Intertoto Cup, a qualifier for the UEFA Cup, and made it all the way to finals, where they beat Rotor Volgograd on away goals to qualify for the tournament. Their foray into Europe ended shortly thereafter with a 4-1 aggregate loss in the first round to Inter Milan, but it was still a major achievement.
Since then, Guingamp has been all over the map. The club was languishing in the second division in 2009, when it shockingly captured its first piece of major
Guingamp persevered though, and after earning promotions in 2011 and 2013, the club found itself back in Ligue 1, where they have remained since. Their first season back at the top was another historic one for the club as it captured a second Coupe de France trophy, defeating Rennes 2-0 in a rematch of the final from 2009. That provided Guingamp their most recent shot at Europe, where they qualified for the Europa League’s round of 32 before falling 4-3 on aggregate in a heartbreaking tie with Dynamo Kyiv.
But while Guingamp has experienced success in cup competitions, they have never really been able to transfer that to Ligue 1. Since returning to the top flight, the club has been middling and most recently finished the 2015-16 campaign in 16th place, just five points clear of the relegation zone.
This year, however, has seen some major changes at the club, and Guingamp are looking at a potential highest ever finish in club history if the second half of the season continues in the same vein as the first. After offloading a number of players in the offseason and replacing them with a mix of youth and experience, Guingamp currently sit fifth in the Ligue 1 table, and while they are currently six points out of a Europa League spot, the club has a chance to qualify for Europe through its league finish for the first time in its history.
Guingamp have gotten to where they are through nothing more than just being plain solid. There isn’t really a particular standout on the squad, with leading scorer Jimmy Briand having just six goals on the season, although he is also second on the team in assists with four. The only man who has provided more goals for the side is Brazilian left back Fernando Marcel with six.
The midfield is headed by Yannis Salibur and Marcus Coco, who have five and four tallies respectively, nothing too stellar, but certainly good enough. At just 20-years-old, Coco is having a breakout season and
The defense has been equally as important. The back line is anchored by Christophe Kerbrat and Jeremy Sorbon –– a pair of players on the wrong side of 30 –– along with Marcel. Guingamp have held opponents to 23 goals in their opening 21 games –– tied for fifth-best in the league –– and while, like the offense, the back line hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire, it certainly has done it’s job.
This weekend, Guingamp will have their first major test of the second half when they travel to place second-place Nice. While it’s hard to put major significance on a fixture with barely half the season gone, this will be a good opportunity for Guingamp to see where they stand heading towards what could be a historic finish for the club. Regardless of result, they will still be primed for one of their best seasons, but a win could go a long way towards stamping their intentions for the business end of the season and beyond.