Socceroos recall unlikely as Gersbach struggles at French club in disarray
A last-minute signing in the summer window for Ligue 2 club Grenoble Foot 38 (GF38), Australian Alex Gersbach has played almost every game this season.
The team who made the promotion playoff in 2021 has disappointed this season and is now fighting to avoid relegation.
A six-time Socceroo, Gersbach needed a new start after playing only eight games in the past three seasons for Danish side Aarhus Gymnastikforening (AGF).
The former Sydney FC defender was no stranger to Ligue 2 when he joined GF38, having donned the RC Lens “Sang et Or” jersey in 2018, on loan from Norwegian giants Rosenborg.
Despite playing 12 games in half a season in Northern France, the now Ligue 1 club decided not to take up their option to buy Gersbach.
Instead, he signed for Dutch side NAC Breda in January 2019.
Gersbach playing for Lens in Ligue 2 in 2018. (Getty Images)
Fast forward three years and the Australian was back in the country of wine and Zinedine Zidane.
He signed a two-year contract on August 31st 2021, for the club based at the foot of the French Alps.
Before his arrival, the club had a tough start.
Grenoble fans already knew their season would be less enjoyable than the previous one, with four losses and a draw in their first six games.
The team that plays at the Stade Des Alpes had a rocky off-season.
Philippe Hinschberger, their coach for three seasons, left for Amiens and took Grenoble’s best offensive weapon, Jessy Bénet.
Bénet scored nine goals and picked up seven assists in 34 games last season.
They were not the only significant team members to leave the ship, with Charles Pickel (35 games), Willy Semedo (34 games), Jerome Mombris (32 games), and Moussa Djitté (35 games, eight goals) also departing.
Gersbach joined a club in rebuild mode, with a new manager in Maurizio Jacobacci on the bench, a Swiss-Italian manager who only coached in Switzerland before.
Given the situation, along with four points in six games to start the season, fans hoped the Australian would instantly impact their team. And Gersbach did.
Adrien Monfray, Yoric Ravet, Alex Gersbach and Souleymane Cissé. (Grenoble Foot 38)
In the starting line-up for his debut, he celebrated Grenoble’s second win of the season.
The following week he witnessed his teammates get trashed by Denis Genreau’s Toulouse from the bench, with the former Macarthur midfielder getting an assist in the game.
Four days later, the Sydney-born defender started again and recorded an assist with a perfectly weighted long-range free-kick Jules Sylvestre-Brac headed in.
Overall, Gersbach’s first eight games with Grenoble were successful: five wins, two draws, and a loss.
After 15 games, on November 6th, 2021, Grenoble tallied 21 points and sat 9th on the table, nine points away from leaders Toulouse.
The hopes were high for the Australian left-back at first.
His tireless runs up and down the wing intrigued teammates and pundits alike, so did his ability to take set pieces.
Gersbach's heat map at Grenoble. (Sofascore)
Although he made a few mistakes and sometimes lacked a bit of aggression defensively, Grenoble supporters saw a player who, once fully adapted to Ligue 2, could be an asset.
Unfortunately, that date, November 6th, was the last time GF38 did not lose this season.
The players and fans have been living an absolute nightmare since.
Six losses in six games, including a humiliating 3-0 defeat in the French Cup to fourth-tier Andrézieux.
They've scored only twice during the barren run, and a flurry of defensive mistakes have sent Grenoble into a whirlwind and straight into a relegation battle.
Gersbach was mainly a left wing-back during that terrible sequence in Jacobacci’s 3-5-2.
He failed to convince his coach, who also tested him as a left-sided centre-back in the back three, clearly not his position.
Eventually, he was benched on December 12th.
That day, Grenoble crashed, losing 4-1 against their former manager Hinschberger and Amiens.
Jacobacci did not survive that slap; the Swiss fired before Christmas.
In the middle of a struggling team, Gersbach did not impress.
The inaccuracy of his crosses, and his passes, especially in the opponents’ half, became problematic.
His lack of intensity defensively and poor positioning made him a liability during the few moments he was not 100% focused.
At that level, every little mistake is costly.
Grenoble could only manage three shots on target in the last three games, which shows the issue is deep-rooted in a squad that lacks confidence and creativity.
Vincent Hognon during his first team chat with his new players. (Grenoble Foot 38)
Grenoble appointed a new manager during the winter break: Vincent Hognon, a former assistant turned acting manager at Metz, and Nancy.
He oversaw things at Metz whilst manager Frédéric Antonetti tended to personal matters.
Hognon ensured Les Grenats were promoted to Ligue 1 and kept them there the following season.
For his first game at the head of GF38, Hognon started Gersbach at left-back in the 4-4-2 system he favours, a show of confidence that the Australian ultimately failed to justify.
Grenoble lost 1-0 to promotion contenders Auxerre.
The only goal scored came from a bad pass by Gersbach straight to the feet of an Auxerre midfielder 25 meters away from their goal.
Ligue 2’s fourth-placed side appreciated the gift and turned it into the winning goal.
Gersbach is having a mixed season in France.
Although he has played his most football since the 2017-18 season, he has not been a consistent performer for Grenoble.
Some stats speak in his favour; for example, GF38’s goal difference is positive with the Socceroo on the pitch.
He was also on the pitch for the team’s best sequence of results and did not start the three times the defence conceded more than two goals.
He averages over four crosses per game and rates second in the team for that metric.
However, his crosses need to be more accurate and more consistent.
None of his 51 attempts at putting the ball in the box resulted in an assist.
Gersbach already wearing his favourite number 20 with the Olyroos in 2016. (Getty Images)
With a new coach and hopefully a positive start to 2022, Gersbach is in a perfect position to play a significant role in the relegation battle Grenoble is entangled in right now.
The addition of a left-footed creative midfielder who will likely play in front of him, Axel Ngando, will help him form a genuine partnership down the left-wing.
Jacobacci’s system mainly required him to operate down the left side without much support.
The left-back has 18 months left on his contract, and he has the opportunity to play a significant role in Hognon’s plans.
Consistency will be critical if Gersbach wants to keep his regular minutes in Ligue 2.
You would imagine his objective is to wear the Green and Gold again.
The importance of the next few months at GF38 cannot be understated in his quest to convince Graham Arnold that he deserves another call.
To read more about Graham Arnold and his Socceroos side, click here.