The Ligue 1 season has already produced its share of surprises yet the presence of Stade Brestois 29 at the top of the standings after 13 matches is surely the biggest of them all.
The modest Brittany club were playing amateur football as recently as 2004 and only sealed their return to the top flight after a 19-year absence last season.
Alex Dupont's charges were widely tipped to struggle after a quiet summer in the transfer market and their early season form appeared ominous. Brest collected just one point from their first three matches, although the 1-0 defeat at Olympique Lyonnais in the third game would ultimately prove a turning point.
After watching his side largely outplay the seven-time French champions, producing 17 shots on goal without reward, Dupont received some hearty congratulations from OL president Jean-Michel Aulas.
The words of encouragement merely annoyed the Brest coach, however. "He told me we had a good team and said we'd played well," Dupont remembered. "It was flattering but I didn't like it. I couldn't accept hearing we'd played well when we'd lost."
The former CS Sedan-Ardennes and FC Gueugnon boss decided he did not want his side to be honourable losers, and urged them to defend better collectively while adopting a more ruthless streak in attack.
The change was dramatic. Brest did not concede in their next eight matches, surging to the top of the table with a 2-0 win against AS Saint-Etienne on 30 October. "We've become very difficult to beat," said Dupont, who was appointed in 2009.
"The players listen to what we tell them and play in a very organised manner. They gained good experience together in Ligue 2 and they know how to dig deep during the difficult moments."
The remarkable spell of 832 minutes without conceding owed much to the talents of goalkeeper Steeve Elana, who has been evoking memories of a former Brest great Bernard Lama. David Ginola, Corentin Martins and Stéphane Guivarc'h also represented the Finistère outfit during the club's heyday, while current French international Franck Ribéry played an integral part in gaining promotion to the second tier in 2004.
Today's squad may not boast so many household names, but top-scorer Nolan Roux and dynamic midfielder Romain Poyet are among those likely to be at the top level for some time to come.
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