Newly-elected France president Emmanuel Macron is a big football enthusiast. He used to play left-back in his youth and is a self-confessed Olympique Marseille fan. Nowadays, though, a club from his hometown is vying for his attention.
Macron was born and raised in Amiens, a city in the northern region of Picardy, and Bernard Joannin -- president of local Amiens SC -- has sent him a club shirt and invited him to visit the crucial game at Reims on the last match day in Ligue 2 on Friday. The occasion couldn't have been more significant -- a win should be enough to secure the sensational promotion to Ligue 1 for the first time in Amiens' 116-year history.
"I hope that he would look at our club and support us. One can be in love with Marseille and Amiens at the same time," Joannin said.
- Amiens SC (@AmiensSC) May 15, 2017
It is not surprising that Macron didn't choose Amiens, because the club has mostly languished in lower echelons of French football. Their biggest achievement to date was reaching the Coupe de France final in 2001, while playing in the third division.
That was a breathtaking run, and Amiens only conceded once en route to the Stade de France. They kept a clean sheet there as well but lost on penalties to Jose Luis Chilavert's Strasbourg side after a goalless draw. That sums up their story.
Amiens have never been lucky. In 2007, they missed out on the promotion to Ligue 1 despite winning 69 points -- the best-ever performance for a team that didn't go up. Two years later, they were traumatically relegated from Ligue 2 with 43 points, which at the time was the highest-ever total for a team that went down.
They are the eternal underachievers, one of only two French cities with a population of more than 100,000 to never have a team in the top flight. Fans have been used to disappointments, and that actually suited the region.
"Picardy is a land that knew two wars. People are not optimistic here," JDA journalist Antoine Caux told ESPN FC.
But that state of mind had changed completely since Christophe Pelissier took over as coach in January 2015 -- the man responsible for one of the most incredible stories ever in French football.
Pelissier turned Luzenac -- a team from a village of 650 inhabitants -- into a force to be reckoned with and won an amazing promotion to Ligue 2 in 2014, with the help of Fabien Barthez. You can read all about it here, but the journey ended up in tears. The FA cold-bloodedly ended the fairytale and refused to accept Luzenac because they didn't have a suitable stadium. The club eventually dissolved, and Pelissier's phenomenal work wasn't rewarded.
Just a few months later, the 51-year-old accepted an offer from Amiens and made a remarkable impact. The initial results weren't good, but the coach was given time and is now on the verge of winning two promotions in a row.
Amiens were close to relegation to the fourth division in the middle of last season, but finished strong with seven wins and four draws in the last 11 matches -- and went up. This term, survival was the only reasonable objective, but Amiens surprised everyone.
- Domino's Ligue 2 (@DominosLigue2) May 13, 2017
"The team spirit is second to none. We don't have the best players, but they seem unbeatable together, always willing to help each other," France Blue Picardie journalist Vincent Schneider told ESPN FC.
The coach is especially proud to see his players staying together for hours after training sessions to discuss different aspects of the game. Pelissier is the man responsible for that attitude.
"Christophe doesn't talk a lot, but his words are heard," Courrier Picard reporter Thomas Dievart told ESPN FC.
When France Football published a preview of Ligue 2 season in the summer, Amiens were described as "goats," which was considered an insult. The coach put the article on the wall in the dressing room, and it is still there as a source of motivation.
He puts emphasis on team work in every single moment of the game. "Pelissier is like a guru. His arrival had been a revolution," Caux said.
Ably helped by consultant John Williams, a former agent of English origins who is largely responsible for transfer activities, the coach managed to build a competitive team while keeping the nucleus of the squad from the previous season intact.
Players discarded by other clubs, such as defender Thomas Monconduit and striker Aboubakar Kamara, gradually fulfilled their potential at Amiens. The club also have local youngsters such as Jordan Lefort and Tanguy Ndombele Alvaro, whose talents have been carefully nurtured by Pelissier. Together with veteran goalkeeper Regis Gurtner, skilful playmaker Emmanuel Bourgaud and other key performers, they are now just one step from becoming legends in Amiens.
This could be a huge celebration for the troubled region. Major companies Whirlpool, Dunlop and Goodyear chose to leave Amiens after decades of providing jobs, and unemployment is on the rise. Football might provide the cure.
"People are back at the stadium, and somehow they are proud again. It is very important during these hard times," Dievart said.
Another source of pride had been Macron's election, and now Amiens are trying to bring the president back to his roots.
With six teams fighting for two tickets to Ligue 1 and one playoff spot, the final matchday promises to be extremely dramatic. In other circumstances, Amiens would have expected the worst, and yet there is optimism with Pelissier on the bench. There is a feeling that 2017 should be their year in more ways than one. Macron could face a difficult dilemma when Amiens play Marseille next season.