While Racing Club de Strasbourg is having a superb Ligue 1 season and is on the verge of qualifying for the European Cup, the 54-year-old Alsatian leader gave an exclusive interview to Europe 1. Marc Keller talks about the great success of this 2021-2022 season, on his history with the club, on what he has built, his recipe for masterfully leading an elite club, but also the difficulties he has encountered and what he always meets. A fascinating interview with one of the great players in French football.
On his history with Strasbourg: “The story, for the moment, is beautiful”
“It’s a long story, difficult to summarize in a few seconds. I took over the presidency of the club in June 2012, buying the club in the CFA (fourth division) because the club had filed for bankruptcy in 2011. The club had been taken over by an Alsatian who had to assume the expected operational loss, which he did not wish to do. And the mayor of Strasbourg as well as the communities called me to try to do a round of the table fast enough to pass to the National Directorate of Management Control, which was to allow the club to move from CFA2 (fifth division) to CFA.
That’s what I did one night in June 2012, I gathered around me some close friends, local business leaders and we bought the club. And now, I have been president of the club for ten years and we have gone from CFA2, CFA, National, Ligue 2 and Ligue 1. The story, for the moment, is beautiful.
Is there a future for popular clubs? “The budget will make the difference”
“I believe. I think that today, when you look at the Ligue 1 championship, there are six or seven clubs with massive budgets that emerge. And next to that there are after seven or eight clubs who are fighting to be between eighth and fifteenth place, including Strasbourg. We are fighting within our means. We have a very serious budget, a healthy budget.
We try to optimize, we try to be very united within the club. We have to optimize our work and when we work well, when we optimize, when we are a bit lucky, we finally get good results. Now, to stay in the top six or top seven in France, I remain convinced that at some point, it’s still the budget that will make the difference. Over a year, we can tickle the big guys, but over time, it’s obviously the budget that will make the difference.”
On the name of Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace: “It’s capital”
“When we took over the club, it was called Racing Club de Strasbourg. I went to see Philippe Richert, who was the president of the region at the time. And I said to him: ‘You absolutely have to help us because we’re going to start from the bottom up. We won’t have the considerable means, but we’re going to try to work well and we need to unite the communities, which has not always been the case in Strasbourg around the club.’ He said to me: ‘Marc, you have the support of the town hall, of the metropolis, I will be by your side.’ We added ‘Alsace’ to the name. It was done in five minutes, from man to man, and it was the start of a major step forward. It’s capital.
The second anecdote I wanted to tell about the importance of Alsace and the region was during the Coupe de la Ligue final that we won against Guingamp (0-0, victory for Strasbourg on penalties to goals). We had rented a TGV with 1,000 people and we returned at night. And on my way home, I was at the table with the mayor of Strasbourg, the president of the Eurometropolis and the new president of the region, Jean Rottner. We were discussing the financing of the renovation of the stadium. 25 million was missing. That day, we hit each other in the hand, the Region added a little more effort so that the operation could be done.
It is also this support from the local authorities that we have had in a unanimous way, left or right, around the club, which has meant that with the internal work that we have done, we have succeeded in having these results there.”
Is he confident for the end of the season? “I’m happy with the season we’re having”
“I’m neither confident nor unconfident, I’m happy with the season we’re having. I think we’re having a great season. I think the last two games are super exciting (against Clermont and Marseille). It’s great. The stadium will be full every time. People are super enthusiastic. And if we beat Clermont, we will have a final to play in Marseille. Personally, I think it’s positive. It’s incredible for a club like ours, to still be in the fight at the end and whatever the final ranking, European or not, it will be a very good season. If we are European, it’s better. And if we finish sixth or seventh, it will be a great season for us too.”
On Racing supporters: “A community of incredible supporters”
“I think there is still a turning point. It was 2011, when there was the filing for bankruptcy. At that time, the club returned to the fifth division and it was an electric shock for the entire Alsatian public. This comeback that we managed to make has created an indestructible cement which means that today, for years, the stadium has been full and we have an atmosphere that I did not even know when I was a player. twenty years ago. The public is enthusiastic, the public is present, there are girls, there are boys, there are young people, there are old people, there are old people, there are has very young people.
We really have an incredible community of supporters, all united around the club and I think that what we have added to this number of spectators is the atmosphere. We open the gates 2h30 before, we close them 2h30 after. We created a fantastic racing environment around the match where people come to spend five or six hours at La Meinau.”
The strengths and weaknesses of the Strasbourg season: “A team that is maturing”
“To have a good season, you already need a good coach and a good staff, and good players. We worked with Thierry Laurey for five years. Thierry arrived when we moved up from national to Ligue 2. After a year, We went straight to Ligue 1 and he spent four years with us. We worked hand in hand for five years. I think he did a remarkable job. The last season was a little more difficult. is also somewhat linked to Covid. But we thought and I thought that after five years, it was time to breathe new life into a new cycle.
We had met two or three coaches with two or three relatives with me and frankly, the choice was naturally oriented towards Julien Stéphan. We wanted a coach who starts a new cycle and he brings us this novelty. He is a very high quality young coach who has been shown the DNA of the club. He also managed to unite the locker room around this project. Besides that, we are also reaching a certain maturity in the workforce.
We have Matz Sels, the goalkeeper, who has been there for four years, Ludovic Ajorque for four years, Ibrahima Sissoko for three years. We have, very slowly, a team that has been worked on, that is reaching maturity. And the audience is back. These elements mean that we are having a season that I think will be of quality. I thought we could aim for eighth to twelfth place. In reality, we are doing a little better and I hope we will do a lot better.”
Are the objectives met? “The season will be successful”
“Whether we’re fifth, sixth or seventh, the season will be successful. People are happy. I said to Julien Stéphan at the start of the season: ‘In Strasbourg, it’s not so much the classification that interests me. Me, what I want is for the stadium to be full, I want a dynamic team, a team that pleases its audience, a team with humility, but a lot of pride, that never gives up.’ This objective has already been achieved. So there is no problem with the analysis of the season. But it’s true that if we managed to win against Clermont and have a good final in Marseille, anything would be possible.”
Does he want to sell the club? “The club is not for sale”
“I have always said that one day, and I still think so, but we are doing very serious work with a budget of 50 million. But if Racing wants to be able to play between third and eighth place every year, We need additional means. We will have to be accompanied. That’s all I’ve been saying for years. Nothing has changed. The club is not for sale. If one day we need to be accompanied to be more ambitious, We may do it. For the moment, this is not yet the subject, but I have always considered that Racing must progress. It must continue to progress.
I think the club’s place should be to try and fight for the Europa League every year. For three or four years there have been small approaches like that, but nothing concrete, nothing serious either. There are also people who like football, who find out a little bit. But we absolutely did not go any further. We have focused each year on the sporting situation and also for three years, the Mediapro crisis, the Covid crisis which has forced us to be as focused as possible on the club to weather this storm. We weathered this storm, we are still here.”
Has Strasbourg recovered from the Covid? “After Covid, we’re getting there”
“Vincent Labrune, who is also doing a very good job, speaks for all of professional football. I now speak for Strasbourg. We really experienced an ascent for years and the Covid and Mediapro were two catastrophic elements. We, we have been making profits for ten years, we have not taken a euro in dividends, we have put everything in equity because we thought we would need it for the renovation of the stadium or for possible relegation to Ligue 2 We used a large part of our equity to compensate Mediapro and the Covid crisis.
It must also be said that the State, which is often criticized, has helped the clubs a lot in terms of ticketing aid and fixed costs. So the state was very present and we, of course, also tried to work. We try to be agile enough at our club to try to react to all crises, and we got through this crisis. So I join Vincent in saying that after Covid, we’re getting there. Even if the consequences of Mediapro last four years. There are still two more seasons to come.”
How will the off-season and the summer transfer window be managed: “I defend my club’s interests 100%”
“When you have results with good quality employees, it is logical that they are called upon, whether they are coaches, staff, players, or even administrative employees. It is totally logical. Regarding the players, I always had the same position. We don’t trade in the sense that we sell players just to make money. We, what we want is a good team. When we have a good team , the stadium is full. When the stadium is full, the economy works and everyone is happy. That does not mean that from time to time, we do not sell, but we sell only if the proposal is very important, if the player wants to leave and is satisfied. If that’s the case, we sit down to eat, we discuss and it’s clear that there, I defend 100% the interests of my club. It’s normal.”
On the words of Noël Le Graët, who wants him as successor as president of the French Football Federation: “I live it very calmly”
“So me, I live it very calmly. I think that Noël Le Graët spoke two or three times about his succession. Me, in any case, I am part of his team for the second consecutive mandate. I have a certain number of responsibilities, particularly related to the selection of young boys. I have been in contact with the federal world for seven years. But like all my running mates, members of the Comex (executive committee), we are really available to the Federation to try to help in a certain number of files. But that is limited to that today. I am very focused on Strasbourg and I remind you that Noël Le Graët is elected until 2024 and that we are fully behind him and behind the Federation so that have the best possible results by 2024.”