Died this week at the age of 81, AS Saint-Étienne legend Robert Herbin has had a strong impact on French football with his career, achieving a very good career as a player and then a coach. Before being nicknamed the Sphynx, the “redhead” was a teammate of the Algerian strategist Rachid Mekhloufi to whom he had great admiration. He even inherited his captain’s armband during the 1967-1968 season in a very specific context. La Gazette du Fennec tells you about this episode in the career of the extraordinary player that was Rachid Mekhloufi!
When he arrived in Saint-Etienne in 1957, Robert Herbin was still a very young 18 year old when Rachid Mekhloufi was, already at 21, the rising star who offers theAS Saint-Etienne his first title of champion of France in this season 1956-57 (where he smacked 25 goals) but also the world military championship to France in Buenos Aires (3-1 against Argentina with a double of Mekhloufi).
The following year, in April 1958, Rachid Mekhloufi (4 selections) with amazement turns his back on the French team of the coach Albert Batteux and the World Cup in Sweden to join the glorious FLN Team in Tunis. He abandoned his teammates at Saint-Etienne, who plunged back into D2 for a season, and traveled the world for the Algerian cause with his brothers in the Revolution. After independence in 1962, it was thanks to his trainer Jean Snella that he returned to Forez after a few months on the Servette in Geneva.
Mekhloufi thus reconnects with the Stéphane Cauldron and his teammate Robert Herbin, who became part of the Greens, with Aimé Jacquet, but also of the tricolor selection of which he became the captain. Under the orders of Jean Snella, Mekhloufi, converted playmaker, shines again upon his return in December 1962 while ASSE is in D2. With 15 goals in 20 games, he helped the club finish D2 French Champion and created the feat the following season of being crowned D1 French Champion again for the 1963/64 season. A promotion who wins the championship is a first in the history of French football. Apostle of offensive and collective football, Jean Snella transmitted his faith to his gifted student whose talent he admired: ” Rachid, he testified during his lifetime, is part of the breed of scholars. They have nothing to learn. They invent football. For coaches, these are pearls. “And Robert Herbin, Mekhloufi’s teammate and his “accomplice” during the glorious years of the Greens, added: ” Rachid is incomparable by his paws. He knows how to catch all of his people at fault by attitudes, primers, races where “this is not true”. Creating the unexpected is the secret of great footballers. Rachid is the king of the unexpected. “
After two titles of Champion of France gleaned in 1964 and 1967, Jean Snella decides to leave ASSE and leaves his post to Albert Batteux whose mission is to ensure the continuity of his remarkable work. But Rachid Mekhloufi, who is the undisputed star of the Stéphane team and the emblematic captain, does not have a very positive view of the arrival at the helm of the former coach of the Reims stadium and expresses it a little too openly in The team where he regrets the departure of his mentor.
Batteux removes the armband from Mekhloufi to give it to Herbin
Named best player in the French championship in 1967, Mekhloufi is humiliated by Albert Batteux who decides to remove the captain’s armband to entrust it to Robert Herbin. ” Rachid, explains Batteux, harbored the same feelings for Snella as Raymond Kopa towards me. (…) I understood it and did not take it into account. He had also returned from vacation late, had put on weight and was playing only on his talent, which was immense, without bringing to training all the seriousness and all the rigor that one could expect from the team captain.“. The responsibility of the team in the field then changes to Robert Herbin. Because according to Batteux, ” the captain is not necessarily the best player. It’s a symbol. He is the one who best represents the team, who coaches it and who must be exemplary in all respects. “.
The episode then caused a great stir in the French sports press of the time. Some believe that the former coach of Blue, Albert Batteux, had not digested Mekhloufi’s defection for the 1958 World Cup. He thus avenged himself in his own way. Others went so far as to imply that Mekhloufi saw himself deprived of his status as captain because he was Algerian and that it was not conceivable that the captain of a French team as famous as the oneAS Saint-Etienne may be of Algerian nationality. It is therefore Robert Herbin, captain of the 1966 French World Cup Team, who inherits the captain’s armband from AS Saint-Etienne, reigning French Champion.
Mekhloufi slams the door after a double in the final of the Coupe de France (2-1)!
This episode deeply upsets Rachid Mekhloufi who will live his last season with ASSE which he decides to leave – in apotheosis – by offering his club the first double Cup-Championship in its history. His last game under the colors ofAS Saint-Etienne, May 12, 1968 in Colombes, is simply sumptuous. In the final of the Coupe de France against Bordeaux, the Algerian slams a double (2-1) and then leaves. ” Look at the fate of someone who is upright and honest. Not only do I score a volley on a golden ball given by the redhead, but in addition I shoot twice the penalty: I score a first time but the referee makes me withdraw because he did not have hissed. On that day, fate told me “thank you Rachid for your career!”. That day, I had proof that God exists. But I didn’t want to attend the party. I ran away after the game, I didn’t watch the TV show and I didn’t go to the Crazy Horse. I also didn’t attend the parade in Saint-Etienne. They looked for me. But from the moment the dish broke, it’s over. That’s why I left the following season. I didn’t blame the Stéphanois supporters. Rocher (the president) didn’t know how to defend myself, Batteux didn’t know how to be above all that. I would have liked to have finished my career in Saint-Etienne and retrain as a trainer or trainer there. Maybe now I’ll be a Greens coach (laughs) “Explained, much later, the strategist Rachid Mekhloufi who thus paved the way for his friend Robert Herbin. In 1972, the latter became a coach, succeeding Albert Batteux. By achieving the perfect amalgamation between youth and experience, he built one of the best European teams by bringing ASSE to the final of the 1976 European Cup. The “Sphinx” participated in fifteen of the seventeen national titles won by ASSE, between 1957 and 1983. Disappeared in April 2020, it left an unequaled prize list at ASSE. As for Rachid Mekhloufi, who built his legend as a player (4 French Champion titles and 1 French Cup), he wrote his own coaching history with Algeria and today lives peacefully in retirement in Tunisia.
Mekhloufi shines in the final and then shines by his absence on TV!