Forward-thinking, tactically flexible and he looks slick in a suit, at 40 years of age Julien Stephan is the very prototype of a young, modern manager and Monday’s resignation from his post at French side Rennes could well spark a scramble for his signature.
Rennes’ form had taken a sudden nosedive in 2021, with the club winning only one of their eight Ligue 1 games, while they were also knocked out of the cup by Anges.
While Stephan will be scratching his tactical brain at what went wrong this year, the disappointing end to his time at his boyhood club won’t overshadow what was a very impressive debut tenure in the managerial arena, with the talented boss undoubtedly set for a bright future in the dugout.
Stephan, who was wanted by Thierry Henry as his assistant at Monaco, may be at the start of his managerial career yet he’s built up over 10 years of coaching at the youth sides of FC Drouais, Châteauroux and Lorient.
He then rose up the ranks at Rennes to become manager in late December 2018 after Sabri Lamouchi left; the latter would go on to become manager of Championship side Nottingham Forest.
Stephan, the son of Guy who is the assistant to France manager Didier Deschamps, made history by leading Rennes into the Europa League knockout stages for the first time, where they were narrowly edged out 4-3 on aggregate in the last-16 by Unai Emery’s Arsenal, who would make the final.
Come the end of his first (half) season in senior management he’d firmly planted his name in the history books after he inspired a stunning come-from-behind upset victory over Thomas Tuchel’s star-studded giants PSG in the Coupe de France Final; he delivered Rennes their first trophy in just shy of 50 years.
Julien Stephan outwitted Thomas Tuchel (PSG) to win Rennes their first trophy in 48 years
Stephan’s first match of what would be his first full season (2019/20) was actually against Celtic, a 1-1 draw in France. Celtic would then orchestrate a 3-1 win at Parkhead. Prior to the games he praised members of the Celtic squad:
“They are a very, very good team and have technical players like [Callum] McGregor, [Ryan] Christie, [James] Forrest, just to mention a few.”
Stephan’s knowledge of the Hoops players means he may well already be monitoring the situation in Glasgow. Away from the cluster of favourites he can still be found at an attractive 33/1 long shot to be the man to replace Neil Lennon, although one bookmaker has today (Tuesday) just sliced his odds down to just 7/1.
If Celtic players need a rocket up the backside following a lethargic and uninspiring season then Stephan’s motivational skills could do the trick - check out his passionate teamtalk in the video below.
Stephan may have endured disappointment in that 2019/20 Europa league campaign - while Celtic topped the group but exited in the last-32 - but he went on to propel his troops to a 3rd place finish in Ligue 1 and thus secure a Champions League spot for the first time ever after the season was cancelled because of coronavirus.
Rennes enjoyed an eight game unbeaten start to the current campaign, however after losing key players (more on that in a moment) the Champions League newbies were unable to make waves in their debut group stage campaign - they finished bottom of a tough group featuring Chelsea and last season’s Europa League victors Sevilla.
Only PSG have seen more of the ball than Rennes this season (60.55%), they seek to control the game in the opponents half with neat passing play. Communication is key with Stephan who likes his teams to be organised, but don’t mistake that for being boring. They’ve electrified at times, the scintillating 3-1 win over Arsenal being a prime example (see below).
During his time at the helm, Stephan oversaw an exciting cluster of players, including Ismaïla Sarr, Raphinha and Edouard Mendy all of whom have since sealed moves to the Premier League at Watford, Leeds and Chelsea respectively. He also got the best out of the mercurial talent Hatem Ben Arfa.
Meanwhile, current star Eduardo Camavinga, 18, was just a number of Rennes players to take to Twitter to heap praise on the departed boss: “Coach, I sincerely thank you for everything because thanks to you I discovered the "adult" world from N3 to League 1 via the Champions League. I owe you a lot, you always put me in the right conditions, thank you for your advice! God bless”.
Losing exciting players of such calibre was always going to hinder Rennes, yet a new challenge at the helm of a club like Celtic could well appeal to the Frenchman who will no doubt be eager to return to management soon.