13 June ~ As Blackpool, Burnley and countless other teams have discovered in recent years, surviving in the top division after promotion is a tricky business. It's no different in France, where Arles-Avignon have disappeared back down to Ligue 2 after one season with the big boys. Next season it will be the turn of promoted trio Évian Thonon Gaillard, Dijon and AC Ajaccio to try their luck at establishing themselves in Ligue 1. While Évian, backed by the millions of Danone president Franck Riboud, may spend heavily to ensure survival, Ajaccio have decided to give themselves even more of a challenge by vowing to sign, where possible, players native to the island of Corsica, where they are based.
The policy is the brainchild of coach Olivier Pantaloni, a Corsican who finished his playing career at Ajaccio after turning out for the likes of Paris St Germain and Nice. After working as a coach at the club for eight years, he took the managerial reigns in February 2009, and last year led Ajaccio back into the top division for the first time since 2006. Having started "Corsicanisation" of his side in 2010-11, Pantaloni has no intention of changing his policy as he begins to plan for the new campaign. "We'll also be continuing to offer our priority to Corsican players. That means, when two players are of equal talent, our priority will go to the Corsican," Pantaloni told ligue1.com. "First and foremost we want mentally strong players with excellent team spirit. Our new recruits must share the club's values. I put a lot of importance on honesty, commitment and respect. My players have to love to work hard."
It is a policy which is likely to go down well with the famously patriotic Corsicans, though whether an island with a total population of just over 300,000 can supply enough players to fill an entire top-flight football squad remains to be seen. Certainly this is a productive period for football on Corsica, with Ajaccio's rivals Bastia having achieved promotion to Ligue 2 after one season in the National, division three of the French pyramid. They narrowly missed an encounter with another Ajaccio-based side, Gazélec, who will be playing in National next year after winning Group C of the French amateur championship. Matthew Gooding