(Reuters) – Put a beard on avuncular and rotund Montpellier president Louis Nicollin and he could easily be mistaken for Santa Claus.
Sadly for fans of the high-flying Ligue 1 club, Nicollin refuses to dream his side can upset the odds and win their first French title, stating: “I don’t believe in Santa Claus”, when asked about the chances of a team that finished down in 14th last term.
But on Sunday’s evidence, Montpellier really can pull off the impossible after they outplayed big-spending leaders Paris St Germain for long spells before coming away from the capital with a 2-2 draw which left them a point behind in second place.
The south coast side have scored more goals than anyone in Ligue 1 after 24 games with 47 and have opened up an eight-point gap over third-placed champions Lille, who have a game in hand.
Given they boast new France striker Olivier Giroud and skilful Morocco playmaker Younes Belhanda, Montpellier are there to pounce if the weight of expectation at PSG prompts further nerves among Carlo Ancelotti’s troops with 14 games to go.
The 68-year-old Nicollin, one of the most colourful characters in French football, deliberately missed the Parc des Princes match because he felt he had been a bad luck charm at recent away games.
His refusal to contemplate the title may be an attempt to avoid jinxing his team but his coach Rene Girard is a little more confident.
“I wouldn’t say I was disappointed, I would say frustrated because I think that this evening if a team deserved to win, it was us,” he told reporters after Sunday’s 2-2 draw.
“We were waiting for this match with impatience to know how we would react against this PSG team who announced themselves as championship leaders.
“I heard a lot of people who said we were going to crumble, and with the pleasure of disappointing them we are still here.”
Lille surprised many in France by sealing a league and cup double last season, proving anything was possible, but a championship triumph for Montpellier really would be the best early Christmas present for their long suffering fans.
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