Over the last 12 months, the landscape of French football has changed dramatically in a manner that the country has never witnessed before.
Mass financial backing from the Qatar Investment Authority has seen a power surge from the capital, with Paris Saint-Germain looking to dominate Ligue 1 and become part of Europe’s elite. The club’s total spending of over €200m over the previous three transfer windows has seen talented names such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore arrive in a league that has a reputation for selling talent. However, anyone thinking that success would be immediate has had a rude awakening. A runners-up finish to Montpellier in last season’s Le Championnat and a disappointing three draws in their opening five games of the 2012-13 campaign has shown that France is more than just a one team league.
Whilst PSG have been smashing transfer records, another club from the north of France have been quietly going about their business and are starting to make people stand up and take notice.
FC Lorient, based in the Brittany region, are currently sitting third in the Ligue 1 standings after an impressive 11 points from five games, including a 2-2 draw with the Parisians at the Parc de Princes. Much of this success has been due to their heavy, yet clever spending this summer, something that fans of Le LFC are unused to seeing. In recent years, Les Merlus have had the reputation of developing talent before selling them on to bigger teams for large sums of money. Laurent Koscielny, Kevin Gamiero, Seydou Keita and Pierre-Andre Gignac are just some of the names having made the step up from Lorient.
Shrewd business and tactical guidance from coach Christian Gourcuff, father of current Lyon and France playmaker Yoann, has seen Lorient establish themselves as an attractive outfit since their return to Ligue 1 in 2006. The club has come a long way in a short space of time, having only made their debut appearance in France’s top flight in 1998. A great deal of this success is down to the iconic Gourcuff, who is currently in his third stint in charge of the Brittany outfit – his first stretching back to 1982. However, an over-reliance on youth, resulting in a 17th place finish last season, has seen chairman Loic Fery take action. Due to a smart wage structure, Gourcuff was given a generous budget to inject the team with fresh faces to avoid a repeat of last season’s disappointments.
The star signing and bargain of the summer is Alain Traore’s €5.5m move from relegated Auxerre. The 23 year-old, who spent time on trial at Manchester United earlier in his career, was tracked by a number of clubs this summer before making the rather surprising move to Lorient. A man with a reputation for scoring spectacular long-range strikes, Traore already has four goals to his name this campaign and is proving to be worth every penny.
Les Merlus also beat Lyon and local rivals Rennes to the signing of Dijon midfielder Benjamin Corgnet. Corgnet, who was one of the revelations of Ligue 1 last season despite being relegated with Dijon, was brought in for a fee rising to €6m. He is seen as a like-for-like replacement for midfielder Arnold Mvuemba who departed the Stade de Moustoir for Lyon. Promising youngster Enzo Reale went the other way for €1m as part of the Mvuemba deal.
An unexpected move by Gourcuff saw ex-Barcelona, Monaco and France international Ludovic Giuly sign on a free transfer to add some experience to what is a relatively young squad. Despite finding no place in Claudio Ranieri’s promotion chasing Monaco side this season, the 36 year-old has already hit the net for Lorient in his return to Ligue 1.
Overall spending of €12.5m has seen Le LFC become the third highest spenders in France behind Lille and PSG. The sum is modest compared to that of the Parisians, but has served the club well both on and off the pitch.
These are exciting times for Lorient, with fans elated by the weekend’s 2-1 victory over Brittany rivals Rennes. The derby win was particularly sweet as Les Merlus played the majority of the match reduced to nine men.
Despite the fantastic start, a blow was dealt when much coveted defender and captain Bruno Ecuele Manga was ruled out for six months after rupturing medial and cruciate knee ligaments against Paris Saint-Germain. The Gabonese international has been a rock at the centre of defence, filling the void left by Laurent Koscielny’s departure to Arsenal two seasons ago. The side have coped well without their captain so far, but his physical presence may be missed as the season progresses.
With the new additions being added to star players like Alaixys Romao, Kevin Monnet-Paquet and in-form former Arsenal striker Jeremie Aliadiere it seems that a European place and a first trophy since 2002 certainly isn’t out of the question for FC Lorient.
The future is bright, the future is orange.