Manchester United’s strange relationship with Saint-Etienne

Manchester United versus Saint-Etienne is a special tie for a lot of reasons. None more so than the fact that the French side’s manager, Christophe Galtier, is Eric Cantona’s oldest mate. The pair grew up together, went to the same school, and started their careers together at Les Caillois. 

Equally charismatic, equally as intense. The persona and affiliation Galtier has for his club is made clear in his pre-match comments with the build-up to the Europa League tie.

“There is nowhere else in France like this… Saint-Étienne is the only team in this city – and the colour. It is called by the colour. Les Verts. The Greens. Marseille, Paris, Monaco, Nantes. Not a colour. Here – Saint-Étienne: the Greens.”

Christophe Galtier, speaking to the Telegraph

A clear passion and love for his club, an emotional investment which mirrors Cantona’s relationship with Manchester United.

“For Eric, Manchester United is a story of love. When he went to Manchester he [Cantona] married England.”

Galtier has turned Saint-Etienne into a very decent side. Upon taking the reins at the club in 2009, the French outfit were regulars in the relegation scrap. However, now they’re now constantly fighting for a European spot – currently fifth in the league – and won the Coupe de la Ligue in 2013, which was their first major silverware in 32 years.

The club have all the credentials to be a competitive side, with a sound history boasting of players such as Michel Platini, a period where they dominated the 80s – winning major trophies such as the UEFA Cup and Ligue 1.

SEE ALSO: Sir Alex Ferguson’s influence at Manchester United is killing the Premier League

There’s added impetus to the tie, due to a heated fixture back on French soil in 1977 between the pair, the feisty account led to United having to host the second-leg at Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park. With football hooliganism reaching a pinnacle in the 70s, United fans away at France only intensified that poor reputation, and led to UEFA initially kicking the Red Devils out of the tournament.

United appealed the decision, and the punishment was lowered to having to play the game 280 miles away from Old Trafford. Plymouth of all places. Nice trip to the seaside, fish and chips in hand, minimal hooligans to be seen. But it worked out in United’s favour, as more of their fans are down south, meaning they filled the stadium to the brim, and turned the French side over 2-0.

SEE ALSO: Paul Pogba: Manchester United’s biggest mistake

Current Saint-Etienne manager has a lot of admiration for the Red Devils, and compares hid old pal, King Eric, to United’s main striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic – not that we haven’t heard that before.

“For me, Manchester United is the biggest club in the world. It’s like a mountain. Mont Blanc. Himalayas… And, when I look at Ibra I think of Eric Cantona.”

Christophe Galtier, speaking to the Telegraph

It might be United’s top scoring striker who makes the difference between the two sides, as the Swede’s already netted twice in the competition. And, United’s other marquee player, Paul Pogba, will be pitted against his older brother, Florentin. And it sounds like Pogba’s brother’s manager will get his man right up for the occasion.

“Paul is the youngest. He has to give the respect to his older brother! But man-to-man it’s not a problem for Flo to play against his brother. He wants to kill him! I think it will only be difficult for their mother!”

The odd ties seem never ending between the English and French side. Yet all this history has only really confirmed one thing about United: the side’s continuing slump amongst European giants. Sure, it’s a nice story, recalling the years of Platini, and a manager being best buds with the King of Old Trafford. But, it’s not exactly the story of United playing German or Italian giants in Europe’s main competition. Rather, a pre-match build up against a side in Europe’s second tier, where United seem set to take part in for the foreseeable future.

Hardly the Mont Blanc, Galtier refers to them as.

Pogba is United’s highest earner, but who joins the Frenchman at the top of the pack at the other Premier League clubs?