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France’s finest on the slide

Elie Baup, the young coach of Bordeaux characterised by the permanent baseball cap moulded to his head, was never too keen on the expanded Champions League with its two hefty chunks of matches before the serious stuff starts. He and his homely team from south-west France are experiencing their first adventure among Europe’s elite and, as he mused before the mind-addling odyssey began, the Champions League only feels like the Champions League when you play a Barcelona or a Manchester United. Well, now he has his chance.

For the less fashionable clubs who have made it past the mirage and on to the oasis, just like Bordeaux, the next couple of weeks will teach them much: joining in alongside Europe’s elite is one thing, establishing yourself among them another.

Here Chelsea potentially set the example. This, remember, is also their first bash at the Champions League. Having only qualified through finishing third in their league last season, and without a proud European pedigree to give them Bergdorf Goodman Prada Mens Shoes added clout, they have made astonishing strides to be regarded as real contenders.

Their opponents next week, the infamous Olympique de Marseille, regard the progress made at Stamford Bridge with a mixture of grudging admiration and tormenting self-analysis. But for small matters like millions of francs, a crop Authentic Prada Handbags Online of megastars, and inspirational leadership it could be them tapping at the shoulders of Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Lazio et al. Bicester Village Prada Store Number Marseille replica prada nylon handbags, an institution whose power reverberates along the French Riviera, are convinced they belong in such exclusive company.

But it is French teams on the slide providing the challenge for England’s representatives. Last season brimmed with Amazon Uk Prada Shoes promise for Marseille and Bordeaux, who were neck and neck in a film script title race until Baup’s dashing team shaded it by a point in the last minute of the last game of the season. This time around, the shared experience has turned into descent and afflictions.

The curse of inconsistency is a dingy spot in mid-table, way off the pace for the title and some distance away from the consolation of a European placing. Reality has bitten hard: About Prada Products both have stopped pretending. ‘It’s football,’ shrugs Baup. ‘You’ve got to have a lot of humility. Sometimes things go well and sometimes they don’t.’

The first phase of the Champions League brought positives, Bordeaux delighted to advance and Marseille enjoying a rare highlight by defeating Manchester United. But the second stage has left the French brutally exposed. Bordeaux, who were taught a humiliating lesson by Valencia, haven’t scored a goal yet. And now Old Trafford. ‘Manchester represent some dreams, even though as a trainer you haven’t the right to dream. We know it will be difficult but in our own minds Authentic Prada Messenger Bag For Sale we’re not losers,’ says Baup.

Marseille, this most intense of French clubs, has had more than Authentic Prada Bag For Sale Philippines its fair share of undulating Authentic Prada Fairy Bag For Sale emotions during the past decade – under Bernard Tapie they flew to the crowning glory of the 1993 European Cup before falling, flailing, floundering among the nightmarish depths of bribery scandals and the subsequent punishment of relegation.

Now, having rebuilt to a level capable of reaching the Uefa Cup final last season, they are waning again. In a turbulent year they have parted company with father figure manager Rolland Courbis, and allowed major stars to leave the club without being adequately replaced. Laurent Blanc, Fabrizio Ravanelli, and Christophe Dugarry made way for journeymen and kids.

The nemesis came at St Etienne. Four-nil down at half time the 3,000 travelling Marseillese abandoned the game, disgusted, at the interval. Their heroes had shown no fire, no pride – the ultimate sin. The next day at the training ground the players were duly set upon by furious fans.

Marseille are trying to rebuild under new coach Bernard Casoni by showing faith in youth (probably just as well after a mad 60 transfers in three years). Peter Luccin and Stephane Dalmat have impressed particularly. ‘Quality players, who can become big players, are here,’ insists Casoni.

They cherish the moments of brilliance they have mustered this season, such as a thrilling mauling of most detested rivals Paris Saint-Germain 10 days ago, each of their goals in a Apertura Outlet Prada Montevarchi 4-1 triumph stoking the fire at Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Book Bags a smouldering Velodrome and warming the confidence of the battered players. Robert Pires takes heart: ‘Play like that and we’ll climb again.’