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The Fall and Rise of Alain Perrin

Sacked by Portsmouth two years ago, Alain Perrin - unlike his 1970s BBC comedy counterpart Reginald - didn't quite fake his own suicide, even if he did disappear off the footballing radar for a spot of gardening leave after Milan Mandaric wielded the axe.

But after a six-month spell of fuscia-fondling, Perrin - the man who rescued Pompey from scraping by on parachute payments in the Championship during the honeymoon period of his eight months in charge - is back on the bench and blooming at Sochaux.

Arriving in eastern France last summer, Perrin took charge of a team which finished 15th in the 20-team Ligue 1 and began the current campaign with no greater ambition than creeping into the top ten.

After a good start, like so many surprise packages, this modest club appeared to be in their place when they slipped down to 13th at the end of September when they succumbed to Lyon.

But they surprisingly recovered, and have not left the top six since the end of November, currently sitting prettily in sixth despite last weekend's defeat to Bordeaux, just three points off third and what would be a shock Champions League place.

'We're agreeably surprised,' admitted Perrin. 'There's a good understanding within the team, a good quality of play. There's the new players and the young players who have shown that they have a lot of quality.'

At one of France's most modest outfits, Perrin has had to work with a budget so shoestring you would barely be able to lace up a pair of flip-flops.

He cannily negotiated his way through the transfer market last summer, picking out a few talented Ligue 1 journeymen and number of youngsters who may, or may not, make the grade.

Jerome Leroy, who counts Paris Saint Germain, Marseille and Lens on his lengthy CV, arrived from Beitar Jerusalem, while another PSG old boy Stephane Pichot gave up the glitz of the capital to be reunited with Lionel Potillon in defence alongside former Lyon, Inter Milan and Real Sociedad left-back Jeremie Brechet.

Karim Ziani, who Perrin brought to prominence in his spell as boss of Troyes between in the 1990s and early noughties, was plucked from the second division and has hit eight valuable goals this season, making him the club's joint-top scorer with Alvaro Santos, a little-known Brazilian who'd been finding the net regularly in Denmark.

If you throw into that the seasoned Philippe Brunel and Mikael Isabey, as well as youthful Liverpool flop Anthony Le Tallec and fresh-faced strikers Julien Quercia and Slovenian Valter Birsa, it is a disparate blend which Perrin has somehow moulded into an effective unit.

'We had to take a risk on young players,' said Perrin, who needed to factor in the club's lack of financial wallop when compensating for the summer departures of offensive midfielder Jeremy Menez and last season's top scorer Ilan to Monaco and St Etienne respectively.

'We took Birsa, who had shown some interesting things in Slovenia. We had to wed the young players with experienced players.

'There were also experienced players who had stayed from last season. Isabey, [Romain] Pitau amongst others. There were some very good attackers like Menez or Ilan, who left. So we had to rebuild the team.'

While the line-up might look cobbled together, the results have been far from down-at-heel.

Only the top three - Lyon, Lens and Lille - have lost fewer Ligue 1 matches this season. They have reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup and are in with a great chance of reaching the French Cup final as they face a team of butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers in the semi-finals.

If a smattering of the ten draws Perrin's side have earned had been transformed into victories, they would have been a shoe-in for second rather than flirting with the top four.

'We've not really taken our chances,' grumbled the 50-year-old, whose team have ruffled the opposition onion bag on just 31 occasions in 28 games - their stats not helped by the lengthy, injury-enforced absence of Moumouni Dagano, who hit 13 goals last season.

'I don't think we're defensive. We've played really well, we've created a lot of chances but we've lacked a little clarity in front of goal, due to the inexperience of some of the players and the absence of men like Dagano.

'If we'd had players like him, I think we would have been better placed in terms of attack. We've missed him a lot. And there are the young players who need to play and need experience.'

I've always maintained that esprit of an educator. I'm not afraid to work with young players, to bring them through to the top level
Alain Perrin

Perrin though has never been afraid to test the validity of the infamous Alan Hansen quote 'You'll never win anything with kids'.

Having failed to cut the mustard as a professional, Perrin's footballing philosophy was - like Lille's Claude Puel - shaped by Arsene Wenger with Perrin taking charge of the youth academy at Nancy in 1983 while the current Arsenal boss was exhibiting the first signs of pitch-side myopia with the club's first team.

'I've always maintained that esprit of an educator. I'm not afraid to work with young players, to bring them through to the top level,' said Perrin, who had the nous to convince former club Marseille to pay a club record fee for one Didier Drogba.

'Wenger was at Nancy when I was there, but of course he's now on a different level as he's looking to challenge in the Champions League and Premiership.'

Perrin's reputation has been forged on less glamourous stages.

Newcastle United fans will have painful memories of the climax of Perrin's decade in charge at Troyes as he won an Intertoto Cup at the Magpies' expense in 2001 having steered the side from the Champagne region through three divisions into the French top flight.

That record earned Perrin his first shot at a 'big club' as Marseille came knocking in 2002, only for it to all end in tears in January 2004.

Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates was the next port of call for a turbulent and ultimately deflating four months, before his arrival on the English Riviera.

Despite his Premiership experience being short and not particularly sweet - four wins in 20 games in charge hardly the stuff Manager of the Year awards are made of - Perrin has not been put off plying his trade on foreign shores.

'I was happy in the Premiership,' he insisted. 'I think that the job of a coach is one of experience, where you have to accumulate experience abroad. It gives you another context, another culture, brings you on as a coach in many essential ways.

'The priority now is to put the experience that I had there to good effect before heading for pastures new. I think I'll go abroad next, perhaps to take charge of a national side. But it's true I was pleased to come back to Ligue 1.'

If the rumour mill is to be believed though, Perrin may have to keep his wanderlust in check for a while longer - he's tipped as a potential successor to the 'unsettled' Gerard Houllier at Lyon come the season's end.

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