Montpellier president Nicollin dies, helped club win title

Montpellier's President Louis Nicollin leaves the field at the end of the League One soccer match, against Marseille, at the Velodrome Stadium, in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010. Marseille won 4-0. (Claude Paris/AP)

PARIS — Montpellier president Louis Nicollin, who helped to produce one of the biggest upsets in French football when his unfashionable club won the league in 2012, has died. He was 74.

Montpellier said in a statement that Nicollin, who had been its president since 1974, died on Thursday, his birthday.

Never shy of controversy, Nicollin made his fortune in waste collection and began funding the southern club after taking control. His reward after 38 years was for Montpellier to become French champions for the first time at the expense of Paris Saint-Germain.

Montpellier’s title-winning squad featured nine homegrown players, in contrast to PSG’s relentless pursuit of stars at the expense of its own youth academy. Striker Olivier Giroud, who scored 21 league goals, left for Arsenal.

A close friend of Nicollin, former France great Michel Platini mourned the death of someone "exceptional."

"To put it simply, I loved him like a brother. A part of me has just gone," Platini said in a statement. "Louis was my closest friend in football over the past 30 years."

Under Nicollin, Montpellier won the second division title in 1987 and the French Cup in 1990 with a team featuring the likes of Eric Cantona, Laurent Blanc and Julio Cesar.

However, Nicollin also made the headlines for the wrong reasons, with his profanity-laced tirades landing him in trouble more than once.

In 2009, he was banned for two months for using an anti-gay term to describe Auxerre midfielder Benoit Pedretti. He later apologized to Pedretti, who did not pursue the matter.