Montpellier’s first ever league title was secured thanks to a double from John Utaka, on a day where anything but a loss would do. (Image | French Football Weekly)

Montpellier HSC are the new champions of French football after a 2-1 win over relegated AJ Auxerre. The club’s first ever top flight trophy came courtesy of a double from former Portsmouth winger John Utaka, after the Stade de l’Abbé-Deschamps outfit took the lead through Olivier Kapo, another ex-Premier League player plying his trade in Ligue 1.

René Girard’s side became the fifth different club to lift the Ligue 1 trophy since the 2006-2007 season, in what could be taken as both an indication of competitiveness in French football, and a lack of any particularly strong title contender. They were pushed all the way by Paris St. Germain (PSG), however. PSG became one of the richest clubs in the world when the Qatar Investment Authority became their major shareholders in the summer of 2011. A great deal of money was spent, particularly on Javier Pastore, with the intention of making PSG the new “force” in Ligue 1, but after the final day’s action a full three points separated Carlo Ancelotti’s side from the much-craved title.

Despite the joy for Montpellier the home supporters decided to make their frustrations known about Auxerre’s plight mid-way through the second half. Fans located behind the visitors’ goal took to covering Montpellier ‘keeper Geoffrey Jourdren’s goal in toilet paper, before throwing tennis balls onto the pitch en masse. This held the game up by 10 minutes, ensuring that the PSG tie moved four minutes ahead in real time. As it happened, the capital side also recovered to a 2-1 success against FC Lorient, Pastore and Thiago Motta scoring the goals.

John Utaka doesn’t score often for Montpellier, but his two goals last night will live long in the memory of La Paillade fans. (Image | Scores Way)

More off-pitch drama followed after Jourdren saved Delvin Ndinga’s effort. A flare was thrown onto the pitch, which was greeted by the game once again being stopped, and a 20 minute delay. This ensured that Montpellier, who were at this point level with Auxerre, would finish their game long after the season had ended for the rest of Ligue 1. As it happened, the pressure this might have caused was alleviated by Utaka’s second goal of the game, five minutes after the restart.

Montpellier were champions, after a final game lasting two and a half hours and a season-long battle against the monied monoliths of the north, Girard’s side had done it. Having spent just two million Euros, Montpellier’s achievements send out a strong message that the simple combination of a solid youth set-up and a solid managerial structure can bring superb results. As one commentator said, Montpellier’s success is a “breath of fresh air” in the world of European football, which is so usually dominated by big-spending clubs and rich, faceless owners. The new French champions have operated all season long on very different values, and they deserve to hold the Ligue 1 trophy aloft with pride.

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