Senior Sports Writer
MARSHALL MUNETSI and his French club, Stade de Reims, have so much in common that they seem like a perfect match made in heaven.
The Zimbabwean midfielder celebrated his Silver Jubilee on June 22.
Its 25th anniversary came the year the French Ligue 1 is also celebrating the 25th anniversary of the year it bought back its assets, which had been auctioned off five years earlier, when they went into administration.
Munetsi was born on June 22, 1996 and, five months later, Stade de Reims began to build the foundations on which the club still stands today.
The return of their assets, including trophies and records in November 1996, was key as it put the club back on the path to restoring the professional status it enjoys to this day.
That status had been lost during the dark days of their severe financial woes, which saw them relegated by the authorities to the third tier league in 1991.
Their forced relegation, after their failure to find a buyer to clear debts that exceeded $ 10 million, and the subsequent liquidation, forced the club to change its name to Stade de Reims Champagne FC.
And, as if bad luck stalked them, they were forced to play without a logo, for seven years, upon their return in 1992, because their logo, which depicted a bottle of wine on a soccer ball, violated a new French law. restriction of alcohol advertising.
Munetsi was also born in the month and year when the Stade de Reims celebrated the 40th anniversary of its finest hour, when it was barely 90 minutes away from becoming European champion.
On June 13, 1956, the French club faced Real Madrid in the inaugural final of the European Cup, later renamed the UEFA Champions League, at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
A crowd of 38,239 fans gathered in the stadium, for the first showdown to produce a European club champion, and they were treated to a seven-goal thriller, which the Spanish giants won 4-3.
Alfredo Di Stefano, the legend who even has a training stadium named in his honor at Real Madrid, was one of the scorers along with the other goals of Jose Rial (a brace) and Marcos Alonso Imaz.
Michel Leblond, Jean Templin and Michel Hidolgo framed for the Stade de Reims.
And, last month, when Munetsi celebrated his Silver Jubilee, his club were also marking the 65th anniversary of that year, when they came very close to turning into European champions.
Three years after their first appearance, in the final battle for the European Club Championship, Stade de Reims and Real Madrid met again, in yet another final showdown, in Stuttgart, Germany on 3 June 1959.
And, just like when they first met, the Spanish giants triumphed again, having won the game 2-0.
Of course, times have changed for Stade de Reims, whose last of its six league championships dates back to 1962, and it finished in 14th place, out of 20 teams, in the French Ligue 1 last season.
But, exactly two decades after plunging into the liquidation mess, the club are in better shape today and are on a stronger footing.
And, the weight of history, in a year that reminds fans of a time when they were good enough to fight for the European Championship, will rest on Munetsi, and his teammates, this coming season.
They are back in pre-season training and will be under the guidance of a new manager, Spain coach Oscar Garcia, who was unveiled just a day after Munetsi celebrated his 25th birthday.
He replaced David Guion, whose contract was not renewed, after the club finished at the bottom of the French Ligue 1 standings last season.
After playing in the UEFA Europa League last season, for the first time since 1963, 14th place in the standings was a step backwards.
The owners have chosen to bring in Garcia, who has experience in management in the championship, after a stint in Saint-Etienne.
“After my short experience at Saint-Etienne, I wanted to come back to Ligue 1, because it’s an exciting championship,” Garcia told the media.
“ For me, it’s at the same level as Germany, just behind England and Spain, even if I had not gone through Saint-Etienne, I would have had the same desire to come here.
âMy departure (from Saint-Etienne) had nothing to do with our defeat in the derby against Lyon (5-0). I ran into some problems internally, but I’m glad I left the team in 6th place.
“ I had asked the direction of the rookies in order to change something, we could not only trust the history of the club, only think of the past and forget the future.
“ It was complicated, the team didn’t speak 100% (like one), as I’m an honest person, I left without asking for a euro. ”
Garcia will be assisted by his longtime deputy, Ruben Martinez Caballero.
Munetsi now has 44 Ligue 1 matches, under the colors of Stade de Reims, spread over 2,756 minutes, during which he scored a goal in the league and delivered two assists.
In February this year, amid reports of interest from the then Premiership club, Sheffield United, the English newspaper The Star, published a headline in which they described Munetsi as a “giant midfielder, in the mold of Yaya TourÃ© “.
Ironically, it was in 1996, when TourÃ© joined the ASEC Mimosas Academy, at the age of 13, starting the journey, which eventually took him to Barcelona and Manchester City.