Bordeaux face relegation from Ligue 1 for the first time in 31 years this weekend, but the fallout for a club deep in financial turmoil risks extending far beyond simply dropping down a division.
The six-time French champions realistically need to win their final two games, at home to Lorient on Saturday and at Brest on May 21, to have a shot at finishing in the relegation play-off place.
However, their fate would be sealed if Saint-Etienne beat Reims or Nantes, condemning one of France’s most successful clubs to an uncertain future and the threat of bankruptcy.
Bordeaux have been in peril since April of last year when former owners King Street, an American financial group, appointed an administrator saying they wanted out after buying the team in 2018 for 100 million euros ($104 million).
They were provisionally relegated to the second division in July over financial irregularities, but the ruling was overturned after the league’s financial watchdog approved a takeover plan put together by businessman Gerard Lopez.
“It’s a rescue mission,” Lopez told Le Monde newspaper upon his arrival last summer. “There are red lights flashing everywhere.
“There is an enormous wage bill, very little income and huge losses. We will need three to six months to stabilise the situation.”
Lopez was pushed out as president of Lille in December 2020 after building the club into title contenders while amassing debts of more than 120 million euros.
He likened the restoration project at Bordeaux to “climbing Kilimanjaro without oxygen”, a chillingly apt description for a club now gasping for air.
Petkovic experiment flops
Lopez rolled the dice on Vladimir Petkovic, the Switzerland coach who knocked France out of Euro 2020. The gamble backfired and Bordeaux cut their losses in February.
The promised rebuild failed to take off, a squad comprised of young and old struggled to blend and Petkovic’s successor David Guion has fared no better than the Bosnian.
The team’s highest earners were singled out — former Arsenal and France defender Laurent Koscielny was frozen out — and January recruits Josuha Guilavogui and Marcelo changed little.
Bordeaux won the last of their French league titles in 2009 and lifted the cup in 2013, but the club has been drifting on the field for some time.
Last year, they flirted with relegation before winning their last two games to stay up, but 12 months on any such optimism seems far-fetched for a team that has conceded 89 goals — the most of any side in Europe’s top leagues.
“For Les Girondins, there is no model, there is no life in Ligue 2,” Bordeaux’s managing director Thomas Jacquemier said at the start of the year when asked about the prospect of relegation.
“The revenue we get from TV rights in Ligue 2 doesn’t enable the club to survive there.”
Bordeaux suffered administrative relegation in 1991 over huge debts, but earned promotion back to the top tier the following season.
After recording losses of 67 millions euros for 2020-21, and forecast to lose 35-40 million this season, Bordeaux could tumble down to the regional fifth tier if forced into liquidation.
As the inevitable approaches, the club believes that could be avoided if certain conditions are met, and Lopez said earlier this month he would stay in the likely case of relegation.
Bordeaux would receive a 7-million-euro solidarity payment if they go down, and 8.25 million from private equity firm CVC as part of a recent broadcast rights deal struck with the league’s governing body.
Potential transfers of Sevilla defender Jules Kounde and Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, both Bordeaux academy products, would generate 20% sell-on fees, but the likes of Hwang Ui-jo and Junior Onana will likely be sold as well to bring in much needed funds for a club battling for survival on and off the pitch.