Vivre la vie Boro’, eh? OK – so we’ve not exactly had a load of overseas imports on our books over the years. It’s probably only been more common in recent times; Stevenage clearly one of the more salubrious destinations in League Two for foreign talent. But that’s not to say we couldn’t attract lads from abroad before that. In honour of Bastille Day, we’re taking a look at six lads who make up our very own – and pretty formidable – French foreign legion.
6 Of The Best: Boro’s French Foreign Legion
Lionel Perez – Apps: 36 (2) — Goals: 0
Iconic? Yeah – we reckon we can say that about Lionel. The stopper – who we’d once only known for being arrogantly chipped by fellow countryman Eric Cantona – was definitely a big presence in our side. Signed in February 2003, he quickly ousted Mark Westhead as number one; helping GW Mk I transform us from relegation certs to mid-table safety over the course of the next four months. If not for the leg break at Barnet in March 2004 that’d end his career, there’d be many more appearances to talk about.
Jean-Michel Sigere – Apps: 33 (13) — Goals: 15
Enigmatic, inspiring and infuriating. For some, it’s the true embodiment of what it is to be a Frenchman perhaps? For us, J-M Sigere has a certain on ne sait quoi that’s still appealing to us even now. One of his two goals against Barnet in March 2002 was simply divine in its execution; lifting the ball over a hapless Bees defender with a deft flick, before rifling home from 18 yards. He then got himself sent off in that game. We’ll put it down to what we think they call a crime passionnel across the Channel.
Bira Dembele – Apps: 33 (13) — Goals: 3
Had this defender come across the Channel earlier on in the 2013-4 League One season, would our chances of staying up be stronger? We’ll never know. Bira Dembele would be a strong presence in our back line; more often than not turning out at left back as Boro’ tried to bounce back immediately. But for injuries, his appearance tally would surely have been higher too. His commitment to the Boro’ cause was no more evident than playing on in our playoff semi-final against Southend – despite a horrible clash of heads with Michael Timlin.
Well, at least until half time. And whether playing on at all amid the concussion risk was a sensible idea is one for the medical pros. It was a shock to see him move on that summer – not least as Barnet was his next stomping ground. A step down we didn’t see coming.
Armand Gnanduillet – Apps: 11 (5) — Goals: 6
Boro’ weren’t in great shape under Teddy Sheringham. Our form was iffy to say the least in the opening months of the 2015-6 campaign. So, one man we turned to in the loan market was striker Armand Gnanduillet. The former Ivory Coast U20 international was born and raised in France, which is part of the reason he makes this list. The other is that he didn’t do too bad for us; scoring six goals in 17 appearances. It doesn’t sound like a lot – but it’s enough to be our second-top goalscorer for that season.
It took just two matches to break his duck; scoring one of our goals in a 2-1 home win against Wycombe Wanderers. But it wasn’t until January when his form became its most prolific; three goals in two outings his last contribution before returning to his parent club and then signing for Leyton Orient.
Sacha Bastien – Apps: 4 (0) — Goals: 0
You could argue we’re now scrambling around for names to fill this list and, in a way, you are right. Even we had to draw the line at Diaguely Dabo, even though – by 2019-20‘s lame standards – he did look impressive in our midfield for the brief time he was a part of it. But we think we can still make a case for his fellow teammate and countryman, Sacha Bastien. Yep, four outings ain’t a lot – but it took a lot to displace Paul Farman. Yet, when the chance came, Sacha didn’t look bad at all between the sticks.
If anything, he helped us to one of those true Boro’ rarities – a penalty shoot-out win in a Leasing.com Trophy match against Fulham’s yoof side.
Romain Vincelot – Apps: 17 (14) — Goals: 0
It’s not all about the impression you make on the pitch. Sure, the Poitiers-born midfielder saw his fair share of game time during his one playing season with us; his Boro’ career returning 17 starts and 14 appearances. And, to be fair, a lot of those sub appearances came late on. But the measure of a man can also be seen in his off-pitch presence. Romain – a veteran of the English Football League – brought his experience to bear in mentoring a young crop of Boro’ talent.
If you need one big flashing sign that says “this is how much Boro’ value him”, then it’ll be his appointment as fitness coach at the end of the 2020-1 campaign. While we didn’t get to see a guy in his prime on the pitch, don’t ignore what he did for those following in his footsteps. It’s going to be a shame that, despite his appointment as coach, he will now no longer be able to take up that position. We’d have been happy to keep reaping the benefits of his wisdom!
And one more for luck: Alan Paris.
OK, maybe not.