Perennial relegation candidates Ajaccio currently sit 16th in Ligue 1, admittedly in poor recent form with one win from their last seven outings, but crucially above the bottom three all the same.
Considering last year’s bleak Christmas outlook from bottom of the table when the autumn championship came to a close, this season appears to be progress, at least on paper. Why, then, did club owner Alain Orsoni decided to pull the plug on Alex Dupont’s six-month tenure with les Ours on Monday?
"Our situation today is unacceptable," said Orsoni (via Ligue1.com). "Particularly of concern is the squad's attitude. I don't feel the unity, the commitment and determination which are necessary to ensure you remain in the top flight."
This season started well for the Corsican side, overturning a two-point penalty for crowd trouble last year at the first time of asking with away victory to Nice. The arrival of Romanian maestro Adrian Mutu, admittedly past his prime but still an exciting signing for the minnows nonetheless, swiftly followed.
A good start that included a 0-0 home draw with Paris Saint-Germain and victory over Evian saw ACA climb as high as ninth by the end of September.
After that, though, the team went flat.
Mutu perhaps best characterised the optimism surrounding the club at the start of the campaign with his declaration that he would "score more goals than Zlatan Ibrahimovic."
Perhaps getting a bit too high on of his own supply, his arrival on the island was a coup for les Ours nonetheless. Not that outscoring Ibra was ever a real possibility for the Romanian in a team that struggled in attack last season, but it felt like a good fit for all involved at the time.
Thirteen games later, and whilst the Swede tops the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 18 strikes, Mutu has four from 13 appearances, an indication of how the bubble quickly burst for Ajaccio.
"I regret to have to have had to take this decision, because I think a lot of Alex Dupont," said Orsoni. "Even if he has his part in things, he's not the only one responsible. For me, the players are the mostly to blame. It's up to them to show a good example on the pitch."
So where do the problems lie for ACA?
Orsoni’s comments regarding the departure of Dupont firmly laid the blame at the feet of the players, but on the pitch the Corsicans’ season has been going pretty much as anyone could have expected it to be.
In fact, compared with last season’s position at this stage, the team are performing better this time around. Last year Olivier Pantaloni’s men sat bottom of the table with 12 points from 18 games, six points behind 17th-placed Dijon. This year they are 14th, seven points better off and three points above the drop zone.
Looking a bit further into the stats, the team have scored one goal more this season than they had at the same point 12 months ago.
Admittedly, then, Mutu’s arrival has not had the desired effect.
However, Pantaloni’s side had shipped 36 goals already last term; this year it is only 25. Clearly Dupont tightened the team up defensively, even if they still left a lot to be desired going forward.
That isn’t the most important part, though. Last year they had only won two games at this point, drawing six and losing 10. This time, they’ve won five, drawn six and lost seven. I don’t think anybody in Corsica was kidding himself at the start of the season that ACA would challenge the top half, so the results can’t be unacceptable for a club of their stature.
It all comes back to Alex Dupont, then, a man who, it seems, just has had very bad luck in the last few season after guiding Brest to the promised land of Ligue 1. Similarly, at Brest he was given the axe despite his very good relationship with the club’s hierarchy, and it seems that the same problems followed him to Ajaccio.
Orsoni’s comments suggest that the players were reluctant to play for Dupont, and an individual conversation with each member of the team wouldn’t happen without serious indications that all is not well within the side.
With stars such as Mutu, Mexican international goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and Franco-Moroccan midfielder Chahir Belghazouani in the side, Ajaccio are not a bottom-three outfit. Perhaps the result to Troyes was disappointing, but it is not reason alone to sack a coach.
Instead, like so many clubs who enjoy small amounts of success in Ligue 1, ACA have opted to part ways with their coach believing that they can do better than just survive in one of Europe’s most competitive leagues.
Like Evian, who last season replaced Bernard Casoni with Pablo Correa only to fire the Uruguayan after four games this campaign, Orsoni may well rue his rash decision in the months to come.
With little to choose from outside of the usual suspects of of Correa, Casoni, Baptiste Gentili, Luis Fernandez and Laurent Fournier, ACA eventually plumped for Albert Emon. Former Nice, Marseille and Cannes coach Emon has been out of work since 2011, similar to Marseille's summer appointment of Elie Baup. Baup's arrival in Provence was a risky move but one that has paid dividends for OM.
However, Emon does not have the same resources at his disposal in Corsica. The side's first game without Dupont in charge was a heavy 4-2 home defeat by Rennes having twice taken the lead.
With Sochaux’s situation seemingly untenable for Eric Hely, Dupont could find himself back in work tout suite.
However, it seems clear that in a lot of cases, teams at the bottom of the table are either sacking their coaches too harshly or making the wrong decisions to start with.
Perhaps a bit of perspective is needed in some cases.
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