Pitchside Europe

Derby defeat confirms task facing Rennes boss

Pitchside Europe

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Philippe Montanier rejected the chance to lead Real Sociedad into the Champions League to become the latest man charged with the task of helping Rennes fulfil their potential, but Sunday's derby defeat to Nantes was a reminder of just how tough a job he faces.

It was the first top-flight meeting of the two biggest clubs in western France in nearly five years and Rennes couldn't resist having a dig at their old rivals Nantes.

'Five years of abstinence is a long time' said the posters advertising tickets for the match at the Stade de la Route de Lorient, the cheeky slogan accompanied by a sex toy disguised as a duck.

It was a thinly-veiled dig at Nantes' recent four-season exile in Ligue 2, but rival fans hit Rennes back where it hurts, changing the phrase to '42 years without a trophy, that's a long time!' on social networks.

Nantes, from the old capital of Brittany, may have just returned to Ligue 1 for the first time since 2008-09, but they remain one of France's biggest clubs with a proud history featuring eight league titles.

In contrast, Rennes, from the modern-day capital of the region, are surely the biggest club in France never to have been crowned champions. Their list of major silverware features just two French Cups, with the last coming in 1971.

They had finished in the top half of the table in nine consecutive campaigns before last season, but came up short in the 2009 French Cup final, losing to second-tier Guingamp. In April, they were beaten in the League Cup final by Saint-Etienne.

Rennes regularly earn plaudits for the success of their academy, but not for much else. Meanwhile, clubs of a similar standing, such as Lille and Montpellier, have emerged to win the title in the last few years.

Fans can only look on and wonder why their side can't match those achievements, or even break into the top three in Ligue 1.

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Their club has so much potential, but for decades there has been little end product, despite the ownership of the Pinault family, whose £9.27 billion fortune is the 53rd-largest in the world according to Forbes.

Rennes tried spending big at the start of the last decade, splashing out 21 million on euros on Brazilian Severino Lucas. Who? Exactly.

These days there are no attempts to keep up with Paris Saint-Germain or Monaco in the transfer market, and Rennes' budget for this season is only about a tenth of that of the capital club.

Francois-Henri Pinault's actress wife Salma Hayek is, without contest, the biggest star at the Stade de la Route de Lorient, on the rare occasion that she turns up, that is.

This is where Montanier comes in. His impressive performances on modest budgets at Boulogne-sur-Mer, Valenciennes and Real Sociedad made him the perfect fit. The former goalkeeper was brought in to take French football's great underachievers to the next level.

After leading the Basque club into the Champions League play-offs, he said no to a one-year contract extension in San Sebastian and opted to sign a three-year deal with Rennes, preferring the "medium-term project" on offer there.

Rennes had gone five games unbeaten, their best run of form in two years, before facing Nantes. However, that run featured three goalless draws. Lightweight in attack, there was always a fear that Les Rouge et Noir would struggle if they conceded the first goal.

Nantes captain Filip Djordjevic opened the scoring in 17 minutes, and Rennes were 2-0 down at half-time before eventually losing 3-1.

"We were well beaten," admitted Montanier. "In one afternoon, Rennes undid all the good work done in the opening weeks of the season," said L'Equipe.

Montanier's notable success in developing the talents of Asier Illarramendi at Real Sociedad showed that he has an eye for a player and he has already thrown a number of youngsters in at the deep end in Brittany.

His team were second to every ball against Nantes, however, and there must be concern that they are reliant on the inexperienced Nelson Oliveira for goals.

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Montanier describes the on-loan Benfica striker as "a great talent, a modern centre-forward, very powerful, very mobile" and he scored his side's goal on Sunday, his fourth of the season.

However, he was bullied at times by Nantes centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and is coming off a poor last campaign in Spain with Deportivo.

The return of creative lynchpin Romain Alessandrini after injury could be just the boost they need, but if Rennes are hoping Montanier can repeat his heroics in San Sebastian and lead them into the Champions League, they must first be prepared for a difficult season of transition.

Andy Scott | Follow on Twitter

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