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FEATURE | ESTAC Troyes – Manchester City’s French affiliate abandoned by fans and in freefall

ESTAC Troyes are in freefall. When Patrick Kisnorbo arrived in November last year, Les Aubistes were on a six-game losing run, but nonetheless sat 13th in Ligue 1. One year later, Troyes are 17th in Ligue 2 and are at threat of back-to-back relegations.

In 38 games as manager of Troyes, Kisnorbo has just three wins. Between the return of Ligue 1 football after the Winter World Cup and the end of the season, the club won just once in the league, ultimately finishing 19th. They have just one win so far this campaign; only bottom side Valenciennes have fewer.

However, despite Kisnorbo’s 7.8% winning record, he remains at the Stade de l’Aube. The former Melbourne City manager represented essentially an internal appointment when he took over from Bruno Irles. Ferran Soriano, the Managing Director of Manchester City, was key in taking Kisnorbo from one City Football Group (CFG) club to another when the latter made the move from Australia to France.

Former Troyes manager describes relegation as ‘a crushing failure’

It is perhaps Soriano’s proximity to Kisnorbo that is keeping the latter at the Ligue 2 club. There aren’t too many other explanations. Soriano charged Kisnorbo with bringing Manchester City’s style to the club, something his predecessor disagreed with, as he told L’Équipe in May.

For the management, the sporting project had to go more quickly towards the City project. There was a difference in points of view. I was convinced that it was incompatible with this team in Ligue 1,” said the former Troyes manager. “Today, we can’t say that we’re watching Manchester City (when we’re watching Troyes) or that we’re exploiting the maximum potential from the players.”

Irles went on to describe Troyes’ relegation as a “crushing failure”, an analysis that certainly remains pertinent today. He did nonetheless say that his sacking was “initiated internally at ESTAC, and not by the City Group,” with whom he says he had a “cordial and constructive” relationship until the end, notably with Brian Marwood.

The City Group were, according to Irles, reticent to move on from the Frenchman last season, and they seem equally as entrenched with their stance on Kisnorbo. The City Group arrived in Troyes to take stock in early October, and along with the rest of the board, took the decision to retain their confidence in Kisnorbo. 

Fans protest… and then boycott

The decision came just two days after a fan protest against Kisnorbo’s presence at the club, during a match at the Stade de l’Aube against Saint-Étienne. “Kisnorbo out” placards littered the stands with a large banner reading “Did [sic] you understand now?” also directed at the Australian manager. 

The fan protest has since taken a whole new dimension. The fan group Magic Troyes 1997 released a statement in late October calling for a boycott of the club. “Going to the stadium, knowing beforehand the result of the match is no longer possible! It is about time that the players and the management take responsibility for the club’s catastrophic situation. Recognising your errors, is that really a failure? It is for this reason that as of today, we, as a group, have decided to boycott home and away games,” read a statement from the group. 

The movement has been called “Objective: Empty Stadium! Save our Club” and it has been largely adhered to. The trip to the island of Corsica is certainly a difficult one, but only two Troyes fans were in attendance as they saw their side lose 1-0 to AC Ajaccio last Saturday. 

An unsustainable situation

The situation between the club and supporters was so tense on 4th October that extra security was drafted in for an open training session. However, Kisnorbo seems to have immunity from the dire situation. He has struck a defiant tone in recent weeks, saying “he won’t give up”.

I want to create something for the future,” said Kisnorbo after a 2-2 draw against Paris FC in late October. The Australian frequently points out the youthfulness in his side, not as an excuse, but as a sort of validation that their mere presence is a sign of success. “We have 12/13 academy players, which is fantastic. It shows what we are doing at Troyes is good,” he said in early October. But can losing every week be good for the youngsters’ confidence, or their development? 

Whilst Kisnorbo tries to put a positive spin on a club in freefall, there can be no denying that the current situation is unsustainable. The decision to keep Kisnorbo, essentially one taken by CFG, is causing fractions that are tearing Troyes apart. Kisnorbo can try and dress it up as best as he can, but the reality is that big decisions, decisions that CFG are perhaps reticent to make, may have to be taken if Troyes are to avoid back-to-back relegations.

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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