What the hell is going on at… Stade Francais

Phew. It all got a little too desperate for comfort at Stade Francais.  Just off the back of a miserable season (11th in the Top 14 and controversially denied an Amlin Cup at the death), they were saved from bankruptcy and spared relegation by the last minute intervention of appropriately named technology firm director Thomas Savere.  Under French league rules, clubs have to balance the books or face relegation – so Stade had to find €6.6m from somewhere or face deomtion to the third tier of French rugby.  They appeared to have the cash ‘dans le sac’ previously but a deal with a shady-sounding Canadian investment firm fell apart amid accusations of fraud, with Stade now suing the company, and three people arrested so far.
As to whether Savare will continue in the extravagant style of former President Max Guazzini’s remains to be seen.  Guazzini’s marketing hasn’t been to everyone’s taste: outrageous strips, pink goalposts, Gloria Gaynor songs and homoerotic calendars are at odds with the Anglo-Irish ideology of rugby (basically large men kicking lumps out of each other and hoofing the ball back and forth), but Whiff of Cordite has always saluted the glitzy approach.  After all, if you come from Paris, home to the two bottle lunch and one of the style, art and romance capitals of the world, and your rivals were from provincial backwaters down south, why not play the glamour card?  And why not get Sergio Parisse and co. to strip off for a calendar and get the gay community behind the team?  The theme of ‘Paris against the provinces’ has followed Stade around since their first final meeting with Bordeaux’s Stade Bordelais in 1899.
Besides, it’s not as if they didn’t get results.  Guazzini ressurected Stade after 50 years floating around the lower divisions, establishing them as the most succesful team in France this century.  Since 2000 they have won the coveted Bouclier four times (once more than Toulouse), most recently in 2007 playing a high octane brand of rugby built around stellar half backs Agostin Pichot and Juan Martin Hernandez.  Christophe Dominici, Fabien Galthie and Diego Dominguez are among the greats to have recently donned the pink, while Parisse (now captain) and Rodrigo Roncero are still on the books.  But the current squad looks a pale shadow of former championship-winning sides.  And with the swanky two-kisses-only denizens of Paris at best ambivalent about rugger, the newly-minted success of old school Racing Metro means they are no longer the only club in the city with lofty ambitions.
What Michael Cheika makes of it all is anyone’s guess.  But he has his own problems and faces a disciplinary hearing on 19 July for comments made after the Amlin fiasco.  If he can re-establish Stade as a force to be reckoned with in France and Europe from this low ebb it will surpass even his achievements with Leinster.
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