Arrived in February at the bedside of Nantais at the bottom of the hole, Antoine Kombouaré managed to restore color to them, but the bet of maintaining Ligue 1 has not yet been won before receiving Bordeaux on Saturday on the 36th day.
"They know they are bad. If they are there, it is also a bit of their fault": from its first press conference, Kanak did not choose softness to remobilize its players.
Far from the repeated assurances of Raymond Domenech, his ephemeral predecessor, on the qualities of Nantes, Kombouaré has never ceased to hammer home the gravity of the situation, the obligation to tear themselves away on the ground, the 14 "finals" to play to ensure maintenance.
On his arrival, they had just been pitifully eliminated in the Coupe de France and had a record series of 16 games without a win.
Above all, they were in 18th place, that of the jump-off, with only one point ahead of the red zone (Nîmes, 19th) and three points behind security (Lorient, 17th).
Three days later, the team ended its sad series by winning in Angers (3-1).
But despite a feat in March at the Parc des Princes (2-1), the Nantes residents remained inconstant and often feverish.
- "Awareness" -
Friable in defense, they have not recorded a "clean sheet" since the beginning of January.
And for a long time lacking confidence in attack, they have not won at home since October.
Result: Nantes is still 18th, with only two points ahead of Nîmes (19th) and four behind Lorient (17th).
The only real difference: Dijon (20th), still within reach of maintenance in February, is now far behind.
But the trend is optimism: after winning over pride in Strasbourg (2-1), the Nantes team followed for the first time this season with a new victory, and this one with style, Sunday in Brest (4-1).
Could it be thanks to the bonus promised a few days before the match in Strasbourg by President Waldemar Kita in the event of maintenance?
Maybe not: The Canaries' first period in Strasbourg was one of the worst of their season.
For Kombouaré, it is above all "a collective awareness".
"We became aware of the situation, otherwise we would not have won these matches," abounds midfielder Imran Louza, revelation from last season who has regained his best level in Brest.
"In Strasbourg, we almost got into the hole but we were able to react. We may not have offered the best game, but we released something strong".
- "I expect everything" -
Since February, the coach "has tightened the screws a little more. He put the cleats on us when necessary," he explains.
"Nothing too bad, he likes his players very much. But he sends messages to us, whether we like it or not."
"I am always attentive, always vigilant, especially very demanding with them", confirms the coach.
"Beyond the field, in everyday life, we must not let go. It is not specific to this group, it is generational and it is also cultural".
He who had saved Dijon from relegation in 2018 and Valenciennes on several occasions, had agreed to take up the Nantes challenge as a "personal revenge" after his failure last season in Toulouse.
If Nantes continues, his contract will be automatically extended for two years.
But the bet has not yet been won: "Today, it is still difficult to speak of a bet, of an objective. We are in the midst of the work, in the difficulty ... We are so far in the standings! "
"When we regret victory, we re-engage something positive, a dynamic. We must not stop in such a good way, especially not (...) But I expect everything with this team ... "
© 2021 AFP