Shortly before FC Lorient tackled Ligue 1 juggernaut Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes, Jonathan Johnson spoke to FCL President Loïc Féry in an exclusive interview for French Football Weekly. Photo credit for the image goes to Oliver Scrimgeour, follow him @olliescrim.
Last season promised so much but ultimately delivered so little for FC Lorient, les Merlus were within minutes of reaching the Coupe de la Ligue final for the first time since 2002 and on the final day of last season were sitting in eight place in Ligue 1 when they led Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 at Stade du Moustoir. They eventually finished 17th but avoided a relegation that would have been undeserved given the great start to the season they enjoyed and the endless injury list that the club had compiled by the end of the campaign.
Things are different now though and the club have taken action this summer to ensure that the same thing does not happen this season and despite the club’s huge crisis of confidence following that Coupe de la Ligue semi-final defeat, FCL’s ambitions remain unchanged going into the new season.
Speaking exclusively to French Football Weekly, FCL chairman Loïc Féry explained why this season will be different for les Merlus.
“The goal for this year is to stay in Ligue 1 next season. It’s the only one we can have because we are not amongst the four or five teams capable of higher ambition for the moment.”
“I think the psychological impact of almost making the Cup final was massive. The high number of injuries didn’t help but this year we are better prepared. Returning players such as Julien Quercia will be like new signings.”
In addition to the returning injured stars, FCL have conducted an impressive transfer campaign so far this summer. Last year, the team had their heart ripped out as Kévin Gameiro, Jérémy Morel and Morgan Amalfitano were all sold but this year, none of the first team have been allowed to leave and coach Christian Gourcuff has been able to bring in AJ Auxerre’s rising star and attacking midfielder Alain Traoré as well as experienced veteran Ludovic Giuly.
Given the problems that les Merlus endured in front of goal last year these arrivals will take a lot of pressure off of Gourcuff’s thin attacking options, but the moves are part of a bigger, well-thought out strategy being implemented by the club.
“Alain Traoré is a very talented player who needs to grow and I think in Lorient he will be able to recognise his potential, ” says Féry. “There was lots of interest in him and we moved early to secure him and it’s the most significant transfer in the club’s history.”
“We believe that a combination of new talent and experience will strengthen the team. That is why we have signed Giuly. He has masses of experience both on and off the pitch, this is not his ‘adieu’ year. If he is fit he will play.”
Lorient are one of the few clubs in Europe who can legitimately claim to make a profit whilst investing modest sums intelligently. With domestic powerhouse PSG flashing their well-documented wealth around, it makes the task harder for their Ligue 1 rivals to keep the playing field even. Les Merlus did not appear daunted by that power though as they emerged from the Parc des Princes with a creditable 2-2 draw after bossing the star-studded side for the first 45 minutes. Féry though claims FCL are unconcerned by this and instead sees the investment of Qatari wealth as a positive for the league.
“What PSG are doing currently is unique in France and even in Europe. It’s called the catching-up effect and now they are faced with the question of strengthening the team on the pitch and the brand off it.”
“It’s a good thing for Ligue 1 and I am sure all clubs will eventually benefit.”
For now though, until that money starts to trickle down the league to the other sides Féry and Gourcuff are making the most of their responsible yet realistic ambitions to sell the club’s project to future arrivals and to develop it’s stature off the pitch. With state-of-the-art training facilities soon to be completed in less than 12 months in nearby Ploemeur, Lorient will be one of the most promising teams in the country in terms of youth development.
Féry thinks : “Christian’s 10 current seasons at one club is a Ligue 1 record. The plan is for me to work with Christian and whilst he controld what happens on the pitch, I will develop the club around him.”
“Christian was used to relying on the academy for players. Now, we can give him more ammunition. With a combination of talent on the pitch and investment off it, particularly in terms of infrastructure, we will progress.”
“In just under 11 months we will have one of the best academies, not only in France but within Europe.”
Until then though, the club know that they will need to stick to the plan and small but steady improvements as the league grows in stature thanks to it’s more illustrious members new-found wealth. Féry for now is happy with relying on their home-grown talent and patiently awaits the further development of the domestic game in comparison to France’s European rivals.
“Ligue 1 is very balanced unlike Spain and England, this is rare within Europe. There have been a number of recent champions and the competition is exciting and entertaining both for fans on television and in the stadiums.”
“French clubs are still providing Europe with lots of talent so let’s try to keep that talent here in France.”
With more performances like their opening 2-2 draw in Paris, Lorient will have no problems achieving their ambition of securing a top 10 finish. But whilst the club’s modest approach has gained them many fans so far, they won’t be moving away from their roots anytime soon. Féry’s plan is a long-term one and he knows success won’t happen overnight.
“I want the club to consistently be in the top 10. To target winning the league would be a bit presumptuous. Getting into Europe would be a massive success for us.”
“Lorient should be a well-orientated club that does not spend more money than it makes.”
Whilst any dreams of a potential clash with Barcelona in the Champions League or overhauling PSG at the top of the table may be pie in the sky, the club can dream. But whilst Féry and Gourcuff keep the club grounded and expectations realistic, there is plenty of room for improvement.