The sun has been shining on Montpellier this month, and optimism is the order of the day at a club that has finished 15th, 10th and sixth in the last three years.
Continue that progression and Europe beckons for club president Laurent Nicollin and coach Michel Der Zakarian. 41-year-old defender Vitorino Hilton is the Montpellier captain: He told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN Sports: "Since I joined Montpellier, the club has grown year after year. Every player at this club, or the players that get brought in, they all have this determined mentality, and I think that's why we do well."
Coach Michel Der Zakarian added: "We try to give ourselves the best possible chance of realising the objectives that we set for ourselves at the start of the season."
Now it's time to try to do even better. But after securing the Paillade's best finish since their title triumph in 2012, is there a bit of pressure now on Der Zakarian's men? The coach said: "Pressure? Why would we be under pressure? We have a fantastic job. If we keep the humility we showed last year, and we add a bit more quality and show the necessary determination, we'll be ok."
Hilton is realistic: "It's a new season, we have new players so it's something of a new team. We have to start again from scratch, but we'll try to have a good season, just like last year."
Bulk of last year's team intact
The good news is Montpellier have held on to most of their talent. If Benjamin Lecomte has gone east to Monaco, and Ellyes Skhiri crossed the border to Germany, eight of last season's first choice XI remain. Front two Gaetan Laborde and Andy Delort contributed 25 goals between them last season – and they'll be expected to lead the way again. At the other end, veteran defender and club captain Vitorino Hilton is gearing up for his 17th Ligue 1 campaign. The evergreen Brazilian will turn 42 in September.
So what's the secret to his longevity? "Sometimes the other players ask me how I do it, so I tell them it's all in the head! I try to show them that if you look after yourself, even at my age, you can keep on performing at the top level."
Der Zakarian is a firm admirer: "He's exemplary. To see him running like he does today, at 42, it's amazing, to have somebody like that out on the pitch."
Hilton sets the example
If many are tipping Montpellier as dark horses it's because of their new-look midfield. Jordan Ferri has cut his ties with Lyon. The 27 year old – who excelled on loan at Nimes last term – is ready for a new challenge, closer to home.
Ferri said: "I think it was the right time for me to turn the page from Lyon. I was playing less and I wanted to find a good new project and to be honest, I was keen to move closer to my family. I had six months at Nimes, and I enjoyed being close to my family. At Lyon, for the 12 years I spent there, I was a bit further away. So this is also a chance to move closer to home and that was a factor for me."
Ferri reunited with Savanier
Ferri played 32 European matches during his eight years at Lyon. His pedigree and experience may well help Montpellier in their bid to move up to the next level.
Ferri commented: "I don't have the arrogance to say ‘I've come here to be a leader'. It'll be up to me to show my teammates what I can do on the pitch, and bring what I can quite simply. The club told me they wanted a player with my profile, and it's true they were looking for a bit more experience. So I'll try to bring that. But if you want to be a leader you have to show that every day and above all the weekend."
Ferri will have a familiar face alongside him, as Montpellier have also signed his colleague from the Nimes midfielder Téji Savanier. Savanier, who topped the Ligue 1 assists chart last season, returns to the club where it all began.
Ferri said:"We were in touch when I started discussions with Montpellier. He was already in contact with the club, so we had a quick chat on the phone and we agreed that it would be really nice to play together again, especially as we got on so well together in the Nimes midfield last season. We get on well off the pitch too, and he was my room-mate. So it's great to meet up again here."
Der Zakarian is delighted to have the duo onboard: "They are both good football players who read the game well, whether that's in attack or in defence. It's a plus for us to have them playing together."
The resumption of the midfield partnership will have to wait as Savanier is currently sidelined. Ferri said: "Unfortunately Téji has a little knee problem right now but he'll come back stronger. It's a tough blow for him though, because he was so happy to come back to this club, to wear this shirt again. I'm sad for him but I know he's mentally tough enough to come back even stronger."
So it's a strong-looking, confident Montpellier that will kick off at home to Rennes this weekend, but in keeping with this grounded club, humility remains the order of the day.
Der Zakarian: "I'd like to win one of the Cups"
Der Zakarian said: "There nothing to be worried about but at the same time we shouldn't start thinking we're going to be French champions! Let's stay humble, keep the humility we've shown in the last two years, keep up our strengths and try to improve the areas that need improving. We can't wait for the season to start. Pre-season is ok, but six weeks feels a bit long! We want to get back underway now! I'd like to win one of the Cups. Winning a Cup is always nice."
Ferri deliberately set the bar at an achievable level: "The club's goal is to finish in the top ten. We have to remain humble. The teams in Ligue 1 are more and more competitive."
The final word goes to Hilton: "We want to be in Europe come the end of the season, that's the dream! But the season hasn't started yet, we know it's going to be a long campaign. So we're just preparing ourselves as well as possible."