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Francois-Henri Pinault: The man who bought his boyhood club
Since 1998, Francois-Henri Pinault, and his father Francois, have sat in the owner’s box at Roazhon Park, the home of Rennes Football Club. Yet despite their enormous wealth, the Pinaults eschew bling-bling signings in favor of stability on and off the pitch.
Born and raised in Rennes, in northwest France, Francois-Henri Pinault was a ball boy at the stadium of Les Rouge et Noirs in the 1970s. According to French football writer Clement Gavard, for Pinault, investing in his hometown team is “a way of giving back to Brittany, what Brittany has given him.”
His father may have bought the club a quarter of a century ago, but Pinault senior’s involvement goes back as far as 1974, when he used his pull with Cote d’Ivoire president Felix Houphouet-Boigny to help Rennes sign one of the most talented African players of the era, Laurent Pokou, from under the noses of a slew of top European clubs.
If your club was owned by a family worth $40 billion, you might expect to be in the running for Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland, yet Pinault’s reluctance to splash the cash on top talent has left some fans frustrated.
This was not always the case. In the early years of their ownership, Rennes made waves in the football world by paying €21 million in 2000 for Brazilian striker Lucas Severino. He proved, however, to be a massive flop, scoring only six goals in three seasons with the Breton club. The sorry saga was deeply embarrassing for Pinault and has caused him to be more prudent in the transfer market ever since, according to Gavard.
Although not an intrusive owner in the vein of Florentino Perez or Jerry Jones, Pinault does have immense say in the key decisions the club takes
Yet it would be inaccurate to say that the 61-year-old is a miserly owner. As befits the CEO of a Luxury brand that’s home to Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, Francois-Henri Pinault seems to take pride in cutting his cloth to suit the occasion, and refuses to pay over the odds for players plying their trade in what is, by common consensus, only Europe’s fifth or sixth best league. According to Footballtransfers.com, in the past four seasons alone, Rennes have paid €20 million or more on a player on five occasions, including on their most expensive signing ever, the €28 million capture of Amine Gouiri, from Nice last September.
Pinault has also invested heavily in the club’s stadium, which is one of the most modern and atmospheric in France, and thanks to his deep pockets the club’s La Piverdiere training facility is one of the best in the land.
Although not an intrusive owner in the vein of Florentino Perez or Jerry Jones, Pinault does have immense say in the key decisions the club takes, notably when it comes to hiring or firing coaches and directors of football. Indeed, no head coach in the past decade has lasted more than three years at the club.
Model provincial club
The relative lack of stability in the dugout is in contrast to the team’s track record on it. Rennes have finished in the top ten in Ligue 1 in 17 of the past 20 seasons, and finished 4th, 4th 6th and 3rd since the 2019-2020 season. The team is a regular fixture in Uefa Europa League, and played in the Champions League as recently as 2020. Rennes won the French Cup in 2019. In terms of domestic success, their recent track record is comparable to Serie A’s Lazio or Tottenham Hotspur of the Premier League.
In fact, Rennes’ victory in the French Cup four years ago was one of only two times that Francois-Henri Pinault has spoken publicly on the subject of the team he owns and loves, the other being the 120th anniversary of the club’s foundation in 2021. Although content to stay in the background, Pinault is sure to remain a pillar of the Breton club’s success for many years to come.
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