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Fallen giants Nantes stare into abyss

23 February 2010 02:55

PARIS (AFP) - Fallen giants Nantes appointed their third coach of the season this week as they face the possible humiliation of dropping into the footballing abyss of the French third division.

Once a dominant force in French football, the Canaries boast a glittering trophy cabinet that includes three domestic cup wins and eight league titles, the last being 2001.

They went on a spectacular European run in 1996, progressing to the semi-finals of the Champions League before going out to eventual winners Juventus.

Their famed youth system also produced some of France's footballing greats: former Manchester United goalkeeper Fabien Barthez; PSG and ex-Chelsea star Claude Makelele; current Marseille manager Didier Deschamps, once of Juventus, and former Real Madrid midfielder Christian Karembeu.

Nantes now sit in 14th place in French football's second-tier after a disastrous season that has seen them win just eight games, draw seven and lose 10 to leave the club hovering just five points above the relegation zone.

Chairman Waldemar Kita sacked coach Jean-Michel Furlan last week after just 10 weeks in charge, replacing him with former assistant manager Baptiste Gentili.

But he moved to dispel expectations of the glory days making a quick return to La Beaujoire Stadium.

"There are a lot of people, I don't know if it makes them happy, who see the club going down to the National," Gentili told AFP, referring to France's third and lowest professional league.

"We have to avoid that and then we will see. I'm here to make this team win football matches. That's the first objective."

Gentili takes over the reins after Furlan and former Bordeaux defender Gernot Rohr failed to meet Kita's expectations.

The 52-year-old ex-Martigues coach said he would not have taken the job if he thought the Polish-born businessman would meddle with team affairs.

"On that level, there is no problem. I'm not someone who can be taken for a ride," Gentili said.

"With all chairmen, there is an exchange of views. It is for me to convince everyone that we should take a certain course of action."

"I'm going to try and reach the levels they expect of me. What's important right now is to get down to business."

Kita is currently in hospital suffering from an inflammed pancreas and has temporarily handed over control to his 27-year-old son Francky.

The self-made millionaire has come under fire from Canaries fans amid reports of interference in team selection and an array from financial problems, including a ballooning wage bill. Nantes currently has 38 first-team professionals on its books.

Even players have rounded on those in charge for their handling of the eight-times French champions with defender Jean-Jacques Pierre launching an attack in the columns of a local newspaper earlier this month.

"When we asked who would be the new trainer, the directors didn't even reply.

"These guys have no word of honour. In the five seasons that I have been with the club, I can't even recognise five or six of our players," the 29-year-old Haitian said.

Gentili will embark on the club's long journey back to the top flight from this Saturday when Nantes face newly-promoted Nimes, currently fifth in Ligue 2.

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