L’Équipe have produced a report on why Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse FC are losing four key players on free transfers this summer, in a project that has put Zelus Analytics’ data resources at the core of their recruitment strategy.
Toulouse have chosen not to retain its players who were coming to the end of their contract at all costs, believing that they can replace them with players recommended by data. Even if some of the players concerned including Brecht Dejaegere, Maxime Dupé, Stijn Spierings and Branco Van den Boomen would have preferred another outcome.
Farewells are often difficult, more so when they are more or less forced. Brecht Dejaegere (CM – 32), Maxime Dupé (GK – 30), Stijn Spierings (AM – 27) and Branco Van den Boomen (CM – 27) were in Toulouse on Saturday for their last match at the Stadium against Auxerre (1-1).
The tears flowed as much on the faces of the supporters as on that of Spierings when he addressed them, as club captain, with his daughter in his arms: “I’m not used to crying, it’s difficult. I came here as a child, now I’m a father. Thank you so much.”
Spierings spent 3 seasons with Toulouse and has two trophies to show for it: a Ligue 2 title in 2022 and the Coupe de France in 2023.
For Van den Boomen and the other starters, all at the end of their contract too, the last few months have been difficult behind the scenes, against a backdrop of complicated negotiations with the club’s management.
Because despite the optimism displayed by President Damien Comolli this winter: “The four players have given me their agreement to stay, there is a strong desire to extend them for the long term,” the hope of seeing that happen dwindled massively as the weeks passed.
After the first tensions appeared last summer among the players concerned, born out of the fact that Toulouse were not proactive in attempting to extend their deals with 12 months remaining, which increased when it conversations finally began to occur with each player this January, just 6 months before the end of their contract.
For all players concerned, when they were eventually offered contract extensions, all players found them to be very far away from their financial expectations. Some responded like Van den Boomen and Spierings and quickly made up their minds to look for pastures anew, even though they never fully closed the door to an extension. For Dejaegere, it was on the length of the new contract where talks broke down.
The Belgian midfielder (32), very attached to his life in Toulouse, was waiting for a significant gesture from the club in terms of contract length: two additional years. But only one year was offered. Not enough. He preferred to refuse. “In football, it’s like that, you have to enjoy every moment and move forward,” he confided on Saturday after the match.
Dupé too, who did not see himself leaving and for whom the discussions seemed closer to reaching a positive conclusion at a given moment, had resolved to accept this outcome: “I don’t want to have any regrets, I’ve given everything… I prefer to leave dignified, with my head held high, with my pride.”
Overall, it is the lack of recognition through constructive talks on the part of the club, even a lack of respect evoked in private with regard to their determination and performance over the last three years that has not been understood by the players affected. Regardless, this has not prevented them from finding great new options in terms of destinations: Branco Van den Boomen has just joined Ajax.
For Toulouse, a page is turning but the one that will follow, with the likely return to European competition, has already been anticipated. These departures, as significant as they are, Comolli, who paid a sincere and supportive tribute to those concerned on Saturday, was prepared for them.
This is why Toulouse had already made significant signings in winter. He has since started looking for a new goalkeeper and will be active during the upcoming transfer window, always relying on data, the heart of the project set up for three years ago by RedBird Capital.
James Thorpe | GFFN