12.05.2021 03:15 h

Troyes return to France's elite backed by Manchester City owners

Three years after relegation from Ligue 1, Troyes have sealed a return to the French top flight under former Marseille midfielder Laurent Batlles and backed by the City Football Group (CFG), the parent company of Manchester City.

Despite last September's takeover by CFG, majority-owned by Sheikh Mansour's Abu Dhabi United Group, promotion was not necessarily the overriding objective for a modest club from a region better known for its champagne.

But it was the reward for a successful season for a team that became the 10th in CFG's global stable, joining the likes of New York City, Melbourne City and Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan.

Troyes spent much of the campaign at the top, last Saturday's 2-0 victory over Dunkerque clinching the Ligue 2 title -- a year after the Covid-19 pandemic abruptly halted their promotion push.

While Clermont and Toulouse will battle for the second automatic promotion place, Troyes could beat their previous points record (78) with a win at Le Havre on Saturday.

Troyes have bounced back and forth between the top tier and lower divisions since the 1950s, although the present-day version of the club was founded in 1986 as Association Troyes Aube Champagne.

They reached the top flight under Alain Perrin in 1999 but were relegated in 2003 following his departure for Marseille. Since then, Troyes have returned to the elite four times, only once avoiding going straight back down.

Batlles and co. hope it will be different this time, particularly with the new management structure in place. Interestingly, it was a deal that only arose after talks with another Ligue 2 outfit Nancy fizzled out.

CFG became Troyes' new majority shareholder after buying the stake from previous owner Daniel Masoni.

"At City Football Group, our objective remains to play beautiful football, identify and develop grassroots talent and have a permanent presence in the world's football centres," Ferran Soriano, chief executive of CFG, said at the time.

The 45-year-old Batlles, appointed to his first senior coaching job by Troyes in 2019, has built a side that plays attractive football and relies on a solid core, with no out-and-out star.

Veteran attacker Yoann Touzghar, 34, has previous Ligue 1 experience with Lens, and is the third highest scorer in the second division this season, while midfielder Florian Tardieu and goalkeeper Gauthier Gallon are other key players.

A 12-match unbeaten run spanning from September to December propelled the club into first place, and despite a patchy series of results across February and March, six wins in their past seven games made sure of promotion.

"As a player you go through the emotions differently, almost in an individual way. Here, I experience it for the whole club, the staff, the players. There's a whole lot work of behind it," an emotional Batlles said after beating Dunkerque.

CFG is also part owned by US private equity firm Silver Lake, who last month received the backing of New Zealand Rugby to acquire a stake in the All Blacks, and China Media Capital Consortium.

The behind-the-scenes upheaval has not affected Batlles, the new owners ostensibly heeding the warning issued by the coach.

"Everything that's done today, it's me who puts it in place... nothing is dictated to me," he said following the takeover.

The financial might of CFG, with its worldwide network and reservoir of up-and-coming youngsters should provide Troyes with the means for a successful transition to the top flight. And, perhaps, the resources to stay there long-term.