The Fall of Boulogne-Levallois: From Elite Finalists to Relegation Candidates

A year ago, Boulogne-Levallois was that. A team capable of making its way to the Betclic Élite final, before coming up short against Monaco. A team which, led by Victor Wembanyama and the crazy hype that accompanied him, had gotten into the habit of performing in crowded venues, even relocating meetings to the Accor Arena or Roland-Garros, without forgetting a hook by Las Vegas and matches broadcast around the world by the NBA. In short, a year ago, Boulogne-Levallois was quite simply the most followed team in French basketball.

About twelve months later, the contrast is striking to say the least. Now orphaned by their jewel, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA draft and gone to San Antonio, the Metropolitans 92 are languishing in the depths of the rankings. Good last, with only four victories in 28 days, they are going through a nightmare season. Relegation to Pro B, which could be mathematically confirmed this weekend, seems inevitable. The fall is brutal. But certainly not inexplicable.

Boulogne-Levallois and Victor Wembanyama qualified for the semi-finals of the French basketball championship by knocking out Cholet

Credit: Getty Images

Hastily built workforce and poorly articulated staff

Although detrimental from a sporting point of view, the void left by Wemby is obviously not the only reason for such a fiasco. First of all because beyond the French international, Boulogne-Levallois has experienced a significant wave of departures. From Bilal Coulibaly (drafted by the Washington Wizards in 7th position) to Devante Jones, including TaShawn Thomas and Armel Traoré, almost the entire squad has vanished. So much so that at the end of July, there was only one player left under contract, namely Lahaou Konaté.

The Alto-Séquanais club fell significantly behind in its summer recruitment – we will come back to this – but still managed to attract experienced players, such as Abdoulaye Loum or Axel Toupane, as well as young Americans with interesting potential (Fabian White, Tevin Brown). Not enough, however, to seduce observers. “On the starting line, we all knew that it wouldn’t go very far,” admits Gabriel Pantel-Jouve, editor-in-chief of BeBasket and avid follower of the French championship. The team was built in a hurry, offering high salaries. Some players were not up to standard, others were casting errors.”

The staff was also remodeled in the offseason. To succeed Vincent Collet, wishing to concentrate on the French team before the Olympic Games, the leaders of the Mets entrusted the reins of the first team to Laurent Foirest. The former assistant to the emblematic coach of the Blues, however, failed to impose his influence and was pushed towards the exit at the end of November, after only one victory in twelve matches. “The staff was undoubtedly the least well articulated thing. Without a general manager, you need a coach who knows where he is going, who can bang his fist on the table of his managers. That was not the case “, underlines Gabriel Pantel-Jouve.

No institution, less political voluntarism

Jean-Paul Besson took over. Without succeeding in stopping the terrible spiral of results, nor in reversing the dynamic of an exercise which sometimes bordered on the ridiculous. At the end of January, leader Jordan Theodore – courted by a Spanish club – left in the middle of training. Alen Omic quickly followed suit and the Ile-de-France team found itself in a precarious situation, even going so far as to threaten a general withdrawal for lack of players. “The institution is non-existent,” summarizes Pantel-Jouve. “However, without an institution, it is not possible to survive in the densest league in Europe.”

Laurent Foirest was “relieved of his duties as head coach” of Boulogne-Levallois

Credit: Imago

This probably touches on the main fragility of Boulogne-Levallois, the result of a merger recorded in 2019. “It’s a very political club,” continues the editor-in-chief of BeBasket, who recalls that Pierre-Christophe Baguet, the mayor (LR) from Boulogne-Billancourt, supported this structure for several years. He placed his friend, the former national coach Alain Weisz, as sports director, and quickly displayed great ambitions. But that was before his project to build a new 5,000-seat hall aroused strong local opposition and got bogged down in the twists and turns of administrative justice.

If the Mets 92 took a long time to launch their transfer window last summer, it was quite simply because there was a hole to fill in the budget and it was not certain that they could participate into the 2023-24 season. “We are at 4 million euros or 4.5 million euros, but we are missing 2 million euros to leave,” warned Luc Monnet, chairman of the board of directors of Boulogne-Billancourt Sport, at the time. Development, in an interview with Le Parisien. “With the final and the enthusiasm generated, the mayor agreed to continue. But he was already in favor of the disappearance of the club,” says Gabriel Pantel-Jouve.

The descent, and then?

From the summer of 2022, merger projects with Paris Basketball and Nanterre had also been put on the table, without success. The crazy season carried out in the wake of Wembanyama was therefore only a parenthesis as unexpected as it was enchanted, which only delayed the collapse of a fragile building on its foundations and cracked by increasingly cracks. more visible. What should we expect now that relegation to Pro B is a virtual certainty? In February, Philippe Ausseur, president of the LNB, revealed to Le Parisien that the directors of the Metropolitans had planned to “set up a project”, “probably through the opening of capital.”

The Boulogne-Levallois players around Jean-Paul Besson, their coach. / Betclic Elite

Credit: Imago

Another hypothesis exists, in the event of disengagement from Boulogne-Billancourt. According to corroborating sources, the basketball section of Levallois SC, second in its group in National 2, could take up the torch in Pro B. This would perhaps be the best thing to do, to turn the page on an ambitious merger but at the wobbly balance. And bring a smile back to the public at the Marcel-Cerdan Sports Palace, so little spoiled this season.

2024-04-12 22:31:00
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