Ligue 1

Montpellier stun French football to claim maiden title - Ligue 1 in 2011/12

12:00pm on Thursday 9th April 2020
Martin Macdonald

An exciting season was promised. It had only been a year since Lyon reached the Champions League semi-final, Marseille had finished in the top two in each of the past three seasons, while champions Lille had kept Eden Hazard for another year.

Add to that the news that PSG had come under new ownership from Qatar, with a promise to spend significant amounts to deliver the Ligue 1 and UEFA Champions League titles to the capital, it had shaped up to be an intriguing season.

But no-one had thought Montpellier had even a passing chance to make the top three let alone the title. But years before Leicester, French football had their own Cinderella moment as the southern club stunned all to claim the Ligue 1 title with a vibrant attacking side led by young talents such as Younes Belhanda, Mapou Yanga Mbiwa, Remy Cabella and a still-yet-to-blossom Olivier Giroud.


Of course, the main changes came from the Parc des Princes as PSG’s new owners began to flex their muscles. The marquee signing was Javier Pastore, who signed from Palermo in Serie A for 42 million euros. His arrival was complemented by Jeremy Menez and Alex, while Kevin Gameiro also swapped Lorient for the capital. Blaise Matuidi was the other key domestic signing for Paris that year.

Lille saw their winning team be dismantled, as Adil Rami quit the northern side for Valencia, Gervinho to Arsenal and Moussa Sow to Fenerbahce. But most importantly, Rudi Garcia and Eden Hazard remained as the club planned their move to the new Stade Pierre Mauroy. Joe Cole and Dimitri Payet also came in to add to the side shorn of attacking quality.

After a narrow second place finish the year before, Alou Diarra was the main signing at the Velodrome, while Lyon cashed in on two of their biggest stars - Miralem Pjanic departed for Roma while Jeremy Toulalan went to Malaga in Spain.


Montpellier had enjoyed a sturdy start to the league campaign, quickly taking up position on the podium. Indeed, they were narrowly behind PSG come Christmas, with 11 wins and 37 points on the table. But with Lyon and Lille just behind them in the rankings, many had written them off - believing they would soon tail off as the experienced sides began to pick up steam.

MHSC would only go on to lose just one of their next ten games - which included a spirited 2-2 draw in Paris - before taking up top position only on week 29, and even then, did not build a lead against PSG until just four games from the conclusion of the competition.

Curiously, by this point PSG had dispensed with their manager, Antoine Koumbouare who was very popular in the capital, having starred for PSG as a player. He was replaced by multiple Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti who despite coming in when the side were at the top of the table, they could not chase down Rene Girard’s men.

In the end, a frantic title race came down to the last 15 minutes of a controversial final day. PSG had done their part, while Montpellier were negotiating crowd problems against Auxerre which had delayed their game twice. But John Utaka’s winning goal 11 minutes from time restored their three point advantage and delivered the title in the most bizarre circumstances.


Eden Hazard

Eden Hazard defended the title he won the season before. LOSC had comfortably qualified for the Champions League thanks in part to the individual brilliance and contribution of goals from the Belgian.


Rene Girard

A complete no-brainer here, as Girard was honoured for delivering a first league title for the unfancied southern club.


Younes Belhanda

The creative outlet of the impressive Montpellier title-winning side, Belhanda won the Young Player of the Season award.


Olivier Giroud

Tied on 21 goals with PSG’s Nene, Giroud picked up the top goalscorer award on account of scoring the most non-penalty goals




Javier Pastore

Palermo to PSG



Montpellier 1-0 Lille

As the weeks wore on, Montpellier’s title hopes looked to be teetering as the interest in them intensified. They were about to relinquish the lead to PSG on the penultimate week of the season against the champions, but a Karim Ait-Fana strike in the very last minute put them on the brink of the title.

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