Diehard Newcastle United fans may remember seeing the gaunt figure of Franck Dumas briefly gracing St. JamesÃ¢ÂÂ Park a decade ago.
The Norman libero lived on Tyneside for just four months before returning to France with Marseille where he replaced Laurent Blanc, the player under whose shadow he spent much of his career.
As Dumas found out, Newcastle was a particularly unforgiving place for Frenchmen who werenÃ¢ÂÂt David Ginola in the late 90s. Signed by Kenny Dalglish, the World Cup winner Stephane GuivarchÃ¢ÂÂh was largely misunderstood, though injury and a spate of managerial musical chairs didnÃ¢ÂÂt exactly help his cause.
Ruud Gullit afforded GuivarchÃ¢ÂÂh just a handful of games before sending him packing in November 1998. The High Priest of Sexy Football clearly found the prospect of fielding such a blue-collar player unpalatable.
Gullit would leave another Frenchman high and dry when he signed Dumas in 1999 only to quit five games into the season, though his reign is remembered more for leaving Geordie idol Alan Shearer on the bench and the ill-fated ÃÂ£6.5m purchase of a crocked Spaniard Marcelino Elena. It was all a shock to DumasÃ¢ÂÂ system after playing for a Monaco side with whom he had won Le Championnat in 1997 starring alongside Fabien Barthez, Thierry Henry and Manu Petit.
Dumas stops by for a flying visit to St James' Park
But that tumultuous spell on Tyneside would prepare Dumas for the ups and downs of management like no other. Since May 2005, Dumas has been in charge of Caen, the club where he made his name as a player, overseeing two promotions and two relegations.
And yet, the 41-year-old, who now resembles the rather portly Rafa Benitez, enjoys the confidence of Caen president Jean-Francois Fortin, no more so than after last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs first place finish in Ligue 2.
Caen finally got their campaign underway on Saturday in an alternative Champions Trophy against the Ligue 1 holders Marseille at the Stade Velodrome. Although mooted as a potential surprise package, few thought they would be taking three points back with them to North West France, especially given they were missing seven key players through injury and suspension.
Dumas travelled to Marseille with a paper thin 16-man squad, his hopes for further recruits evidently on stand-by as CaenÃ¢ÂÂs director of sport Frederic Deschamps thought it an opportune time to go on holiday. Nicolas Seube, the club captain, said: Ã¢ÂÂWe need to look at it as a chance rather than an ordeal.Ã¢ÂÂ
His team-mate GrÃÂ©gory Tafforeau agreed. Ã¢ÂÂThe advantage is that everyone will be committed,Ã¢ÂÂ he explained. Ã¢ÂÂThere are always five or six players in a club who feel rejected and never like part of the group. Here everyone will be obliged to feel ready.Ã¢ÂÂ
And thatÃ¢ÂÂs just how Caen were on Saturday night, in stark contrast to their opponents Marseille. It was all for one, and one for all. Admittedly OM were without influential centre-back Souleymane Diawara, Gabi Heinze and their Brazilian striker Brandao, but the lack of desire Didier DeschampsÃ¢ÂÂ side showed from the start was of more concern.
Clearly affected by their club captain Mamadou NiangÃ¢ÂÂs decision to publically express his desire to leave last week, Marseille were a far cry from being united and Caen did well to take advantage.
Seube caused Marseille problems by playing between the lines and it came as no surprise that he was the one who broke the deadlock after 53 minutes, cutting through the heart of the pitch at pace before launching a fizzing shot low to Steve MandandaÃ¢ÂÂs right-hand side. The ball bounced wickedly in front of the diving keeper, then skimmed over him and into the net.
Deschamps shuffled his pack soon afterwards, bringing on Hatem Ben Arfa for a tired-looking Mathieu Valbuena and Mamadou Samassa for AndrÃÂ© Ayew. It paid dividends almost immediately. Ben Arfa played a wonderful lofted pass through to his fellow substitute that will only encourage greater interest in him from Newcastle, and Samassa showed incredible guile to equalise, wrestling with a defender before beating ThÃÂ©baux in the Caen goal. But DumasÃ¢ÂÂ side werenÃ¢ÂÂt done yet.
Youssef El-Arabi, a revelation in the second half of last season, was a constant thorn in the side of StÃÂ©phane Mbia, who was being made to pay for turning up late for training camp last month. After nutmegging his marker and leaving the ball for his team-mate Sambou YatabarÃÂ©, he popped up at the far post to head in CaenÃ¢ÂÂs winner with just five minutes remaining.
Speaking after the final whistle, Dumas said: Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs a tremendous achievement. The players are like little children in the dressing room. But Marseille aren't quite ready yet, and have had a testing period of preparation. We are still growing in strength, and we have to continue to have desire and not be afraid."
While itÃ¢ÂÂs obviously way too early to tell whether Caen can Ã¢ÂÂdo a MontpellierÃ¢ÂÂ and stay in the upper echelons of Le Championnat for the duration of the season, Dumas will no doubt be heartened by the fact that only two winners of Ligue 2 in the last decade have suffered the ignominy of going straight back down the following year.
Part of CaenÃ¢ÂÂs name is taken from French bard FranÃÂ§ois de Malherbe and there would be a certain degree of romance if not poetry in local boy Franck Dumas leading the well-run Norman outfit on a fairytale ride in Ligue 1 over the next nine months.
RESULTS Sat Aug 7 Lens 1-2 Nancy, Auxerre 2-2 Lorient, Lyon 0-0 Monaco, PSG 3-1 Saint-ÃÂtienne, Marseille 1-2 Caen, Rennes 1-1 Lille, Toulouse 2-0 Brest, Sochaux 2-1 Arles-Avignon, Nice 0-0 Valenciennes Sun Aug 8 Montpellier 1-0 Bordeaux
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