Pascal Dupraz is a Ligue 1 character. Almost an archetype. That of the firefighter on duty, this coach who braves the fire to save a club threatened by the flames of relegation thanks to a certain charisma and titanium optimism. This Saturday, May 21, the Saint-Etienne Sports Association hopes to grab a place in the play-offs, during this 38th and last day.

That’s good, his trainer is the man of the last day, the one to which he partly owes his reputation. In 2014, Pascal Dupraz saved Evian-Thonon-Gaillard in a “final” for the maintenance against Sochaux (3-0). Two years later, he produced his masterpiece with the maintenance of Toulouse. The victory at Angers (3-2) punctuates an improbable rescue mission in which he is the only one to believe when he arrives in Haute-Garonne ten points behind the first non-relegation player.

Today, the dynamic is very different before the trip to Nantes (9 p.m.). From a maintenance almost in the pocket four days earlier, the Greens find themselves on waivers. The Stéphanois are 19th and are counting on a Paris-Saint-Germain not too demobilized to do the job against Metz, 18th and current play-off (thanks to a better goal difference).

Last Saturday, firefighter Dupraz took a hit in the helmet after the home defeat against Reims (1-2), the fourth in row. “It is consternation that prevails. By dint of not scoring points, while they reach out to us… ” The sentence is not finished, but says a lot about his concern.

During this press conference, he opens the umbrella to “apologies”, evokes “the bewildering athletic deficiencies” of his players and targets an indefensible defense. “I’ve been tinkering since December and, before me, a much more prestigious coach [Claude Puel] was also tinkering. »

“Recipes to make the team better”

The tone contrasts with his presentation on December 15. “I have the weakness to think that I have recipes for the team to get better,” he assumes. As often, the technician pulls on all the sensitive strings. He evokes the glorious history of the Greens, the memory of his father in the spans of Geoffroy-Guichard. At the accounting level, Saint-Etienne never points more than three points behind the barrage, Metz already, and its workforce gives it certain certainties compared to its rivals in the race to maintain.

From the first training, the former striker assumes his own caricature, that of the leader of men angry with overly sophisticated concepts. To his players during a first filmed session, he says: “It’s not a big deal if the team opposite exchanges passes 60-70 meters from our goal. Oh ! Which book does it say to get the ball from them straight away? We are in place. »

In fact, its teams know how to do something other than concreting. In Le Monde in 2017, he says he suffers from being reduced to a loudmouth. “Just because you’re a good speaker and use motivational levers, that would mean you’re not a good technician. It’s unbearable. »

But it’s stronger than him. Dupraz likes to play this role of down-to-earth technician. He showed it again this season. “It’s good to have beaten this Clermont team which claims the principles of Pep Guardiola. I’m happy to have shown Pascal Gastien [the Clermont coach] that a mountain dweller could make his team play, “he said, for example, after a victory against the promoted in February.

Dupraz made Dupraz. He tickled, provoked and took a nasty backlash. Pascal Gatien thus dedicated the maintenance of his team to him at the end of the 37th day. “We want to lay the foundations of a certain philosophy of play. Ah, but I have to be careful what I say and put quotation marks in “philosophy” because, otherwise, Pascal Dupraz could contradict me. »

The memory of the Angers speech

With Pascal Dupraz, the character and the trainer come together. They need to fight an enemy, real or invisible, to better unite their group. In 2014, the Evian coach had against his counterpart, Hervé Renard, in the white shirt. A Savoyard though. But Dupraz is from Haute-Savoie. Everything except a detail, for him. And to hear it, all of France wants the maintenance of Sochaliens returned from the dead, thanks to Renard. “The fate of matches should not be decided before they are played,” he announces. Victory will validate this aggressive communication.

By nature, Pascal Dupraz takes the light but also the pressure on him. The cameras too. In Toulouse, his chat in the basement of an Angevin hotel went viral after the broadcast of a report from the program “J 1” on Canal Sport. Dupraz talks about pride and love (“I, you understand, I love you”), goes very far in the feelings, broadcasts messages of support from relatives of the players, some even crush a small tear. “It was a double edged sword. We cracked up, we cried, there was too much emotion. In Angers, we had our worst game with him,” midfielder Etienne Didot told L’Equipe.

In January, the daily also revealed that the new Stéphane coach authorized the filming of a documentary in immersion in his locker room. The project has since been abandoned. At that moment, he imagines nothing but a happy ending. The first few weeks prove him right. In March, he already sees himself attending “a match in the kops”, the maintenance assured. “Besides, I love to sing,” he adds.

Since then, he has been especially disillusioned. Despite a crisis meeting with his players after the sinking in early April in Lorient (6-2), the leader of men seems to have lost his touch. With an average of 1.14 match points, he is sailing in the same low waters as Claude Puel (1.15). His speech is no longer effective and his choices question such as having maintained his defense confidence in Timothée Kolodziejczak or even in the former international Eliaquim Mangala, “unfairly criticized”, according to Dupraz.

Maintenance or not at the end of a possible barrage against Auxerre on May 29, the leaders of Saint-Etienne would already be preparing the post-Dupraz, at the end of the contract. Laurent Battles (free) and Michel Der Zakarian (Brest) are the names put forward. Firefighter Pascal Dupraz may have to find a new barracks. But, after all, every season there is a club or two to save during the exercise.