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Rennes is the feeder club turned into a Ligue 1 dark horse

Claiming a European spot is difficult when you lose your best players. Yet, Rennes has pulled off that feat in the past five seasons.

Rennes is targeting a Champions League spot when it kicks off its French league campaign on Sunday against Lorient, reports AP.

Rennes played highly entertaining football last season to earn a Europa League berth, scoring 82 times in 38 league games.

Bruno Genesio was manager of the year. Only champion Paris Saint-Germain was more prolific with 90 goals.

But missing out on the rich Champions League by three points left a bittersweet taste in the mouth of French billionaire François Pinault, the majority shareholder of Rennes since 1998.

Pinault has high expectations because the club has improved in the past few years. Rennes won a third French Cup in 2019, but the first trophy under Pinault’s ownership. Third place in 2020 was the best league finish in the club’s history.

An astute squad building has been the secret behind that success. Rennes’ approach is almost the opposite of PSG’s. There is no real star in the team.

Basically, Rennes is built around an underrated French core. Defenders Warmed Omari and Adrien Truffert, midfielders Flavien Tait, Baptiste Santamaria and Benjamin Bourigeaud, and forwards Martin Terrier and Gaetan Laborde are all regular starters. Yet, none of them has been capped for France.

Last season, Terrier was third in the league with 21 goals, trailing only PSG striker Kylian Mbappé and Monaco forward Wissam Ben Yedder. Bourigeaud had a career season with 11 goals and 13 assists while Laborde was his consistent self with 15 goals and eight assists.

The few internationals at Rennes are no big names and didn’t cost outrageous fees: Senegal goalkeeper Alfred Gomis, Mali right back Hamari Traore and Croatia midfielder Lovro Majer.

Often compared to a young Luka Modric, Majer was signed from Dinamo Zagreb last summer for a reported fee of 12 million euros. Majer quickly turned out to be a smart investment with six goals and eight assists in the league.

But as a drawback to its top-notch development and scouting, Rennes has inadvertently become a feeder club. Ousmane Dembele, Eduardo Camavinga and teenage prodigy Mathys Tel learned the trade at the Rennes youth academy. 

They performed so well that they attracted the attention of the big European clubs.

Dembele joined Borussia Dortmund in 2016 for a reported initial fee of 15 million euros. Camavinga was signed by Real Madrid in 2021 for a reported fee of 30 million euros.

 Rennes couldn’t fend off the efforts of Bayern Munich to lure Tel and had to let him go last week for a reported fee of 20 million euros that could reach 28.5 million euros.

The club has also made profits on players with an aggressive resale strategy. Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy was brought from Reims in 2019 before departing for Chelsea a year later.

 Likewise, Brazilian winger Raphinha came from Sporting Lisbon in 2019 and agreed to a deal with Leeds the following year. This summer, Morocco defender Nayef Aguerd went to West Ham after two seasons at Rennes.

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