Top 14: Last chance saloon for Diego Dominguez at Toulon
Mourad Boudjellal is not a happy bunny and heads could roll if Toulon fail to beat Toulouse on Sunday, with Diego Dominguez in his sights
Talk about pressure, Toulon travel to Toulouse on Sunday with Diego Dominguez‘s job on the line. Not just his, but those of his assistants, Marc Dal Maso and Jacques Delmas. Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal has already fired one of his coaches, telling defence coach Grant Doorey at the weekend that his services are no longer required after two defeats in their first three games of the season.
It’s tough on the Australian, who only arrived in the summer, but that’s Boudjellal. Hires and fires as he sees fit. The message to Dominguez conveyed via the press left no room for doubt: “He will have a last chance,” Boudjellal said, referring to the clash with Toulouse. “I hope the players show me they’ve the desire that I keep him. Victory isn’t imperative but the manner is.”
Even if Toulon do come good against Toulouse, which given their ragged displays so far this season, looks unlikely, there will be no respite for the coaches. The following week they travel to Paris to play Racing 92, and then it’s home matches against Montpellier and Clermont. The worst case scenario is that Toulon head into October with one win from seven. By which time Dominguez will be long gone.
Not that the Argentine should have got the job in the first place. What was Boudjellal thinking? Dominguez was a wonderful fly-half for Italy, his adopted country, winning 74 caps while also marshalling Stade Francais to four Top 14 titles with his intelligent and precise play. But on retiring in 2004 he’s spent time with his family, did a spot of TV consultancy for Sky Sport Italia and fronted a marketing campaign for a brand of luxury watch. Coaching? Some summer clinics for children.
When Bernard Laporte announced during the 2014-15 season that he was stepping aside the following year, Boudjellal had the pick of the world’s leading coaches. Toulon had won an unprecedented three European titles and boasted a team of galacticos that made their rivals green with envy.
But he hired Dominguez, erudite but inexperienced, charming but callow in coaching terms. “I sat down to lunch with him, and within ten minutes I knew he was the guy,” was how Boudjellal explained his decision to hire Dominguez.
The Argentine should have refused the job. Why didn’t he recall the ignominious end to Martin Johnson‘s brief coaching career, who allowed himself to be talked into taking the England job in 2008. But vanity has been the downfall of many a good man.
Dominguez arrived in Toulon in January to spend six months shadowing Bernard Laporte and he must have appreciated the size of the challenge within weeks. The Toulon squad of 2015-16 had been shorn of its leaders, those once-in-a-generation players who combined talent with an air of authority that inspired those around them. Jonny Wilkinson, Carl Hayman, Ali Williams and Bakkies Botha were all gone, and Matt Giteau was sidelined with a long-term groin problem. The men signed to replace them weren’t of the same calibre. As Boudjellal memorably said when asked to compare Quade Cooper to Wilkinson: “It’s difficult to go from foie gras to pâté.”
Laporte managed to hold the diminished squad together last season, steering them to the Top 14 final, where they lost to Racing despite. Laporte ruled by force of character, but since his departure structure and discipline appear to have broken down. Five players – Xavier Chiocci, Levan Chilachava, Manasa Saulo, Romain Taofifenua and Mathieu Bastareaud – were deprived of their ‘ethical bonus’ last month, allegedly for carrying too much weight. Rumours have it that one or two of the experienced overseas signings are in despair at the lack of structure within the club, and according to Monday’s Midi Olympique, Dal Maso and Delmas are at each other’s throats.
L’Equipe claimed on Tuesday that Boudjellal has been in contact with Mike Ford and the paper says the former Bath coach is due in Toulon on Friday to discuss a possible role. Will the Englishman be brave enough to accept the job? The French press claim Boudjellal’s preference is for Fabien Galthie but because of an ongoing legal dispute with Montpellier, the club he left in acrimonious circumstances in January 2015, he’s not available until early 2017 at the earliest.
It’s a mess. And to further muddy the waters L’Equipe reported on Monday that Boudjellal, who has a 51% stake in Toulon, received two offers to sell the club over the summer. One came from the Middle East and another from the United States, ironic, given Boudjellal’s recent declarations concerning the US market. He turned them both down – “for the moment”.
According to L’Equipe the offers were both between “€15m and €20m”, a huge mark-up on the €300,000 that Boudjellal paid to take control of Toulon in 2006. Since then he’s invested an additional €6m but selling the club for €20m would still represent a tidy bit of business. Why did you reject the offers? enquired L’Equipe. “I must be a little masochistic,” replied Boudjellal.