FC Lorient are enjoying a record-breaking start to the Ligue 1 Uber Eats campaign, sitting just three points behind leaders and reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain over the international break. Here are five things to know about the surprise of the season so far.
1 – Rookie coach
Few expected Lorient to enjoy such an impressive start to the campaign after they sacked coach Christophe Pélissier at the end of last season and replaced him with someone who was known by very few people outside of the town itself. Régis Le Bris, 46, had an unremarkable playing career, turning out for Stade Rennais FC in the late 1990s and having a stint in the second tier at Stade Lavallois before hanging up his boots at the age of 27.
Le Bris joined Lorient a decade ago, first working as head of the club’s youth academy and then as coach of the reserves. He was promoted to the role of first-team coach after obtaining his professional coaching diploma (known in French as the BEPF) from the French Football Federation earlier this year. Previously, players to have come through the Lorient academy under his watch include current Olympique de Marseille and France midfielder Mattéo Guendouzi, and Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier.
Among the members of his squad this season is his nephew, the 19-year-old midfielder Théo Le Bris
2 – Flying start
Lorient’s start has been remarkable, with six wins and a draw in eight matches. Their only defeat so far came away at RC Lens, in a 5-2 hammering in Round 5. But since then Lorient have won four games on the bounce for the first time in Ligue 1 since 2013. It is a remarkable performance for a club that won just eight times in the whole of last season and finished the season in 16th place, only four points clear of the relegation zone. Indeed last season it took Lorient until Round 28, in mid-March, to win their sixth league game. On current form Lorient are on course to enjoy their best ever season, bettering their seventh-place finish in the 2009/10 campaign, when a certain Kévin Gameiro was their top scorer with 17 goals.
3 – Godfather Gourcuff
The success of the modern FC Lorient owes much to the work of one man. Christian Gourcuff spent a total of a quarter of a century as coach over three separate spells starting in 1982 and ending in 2014. Gourcuff, who was a maths teacher, was just 27 when named player-coach. He led the club to promotion to the fourth tier of French football at the end of his first campaign. The rise was rapid, all the way up to the second division in 1985, before they slipped back down to the third tier a year later and Gourcuff left for the first time.
He returned for a second spell in 1991 with the club in the third tier, and led them to promotion back to the second division at the first time of asking. After a period of stability, Gourcuff oversaw their first ever promotion to the top flight in 1998. While they lasted just one season in the elite, they went back up in 2001. Gourcuff then departed again, but he returned for a third and final spell in charge in 2003 and this time stayed 11 more years, helping them finally consolidate as a force in Ligue 1. Lorient finished eighth in his last season in charge, before he moved on for the last time, at the age of 59.
4 – The Hakes
Situated in the Morbihan department on Brittany’s south coast, Lorient is a port and it was here that the Germans set up a major submarine base during World War II. As a result the town was heavily bombed during the battles to liberate France. But it is that link with the sea that is behind FC Lorient’s nickname. Les Merlus (The Hakes) were founded in 1926 as La Marée Sportive. A marée is a tide but is also used to describe a fisherman’s catch. The club’s name quickly changed to its current title, but the nickname is a reference to a fish that has historically been a speciality of the local fishing port. A hake features on the club’s badge.
5 – Silverware
While Lorient’s modern history is indelibly linked to Gourcuff, the only major trophy the club has ever won came in a brief period in between two of his spells as coach. After Gourcuff departed for the second time in 2001, Lorient went on to reach the finals of both national cup competitions in the 2001-02 season. Under Yvon Pouliquen – who had led RC Strasbourg Alsace to victory in the previous season’s Coupe de France – Lorient lost 3-0 to Girondins de Bordeaux in the 2002 Coupe de la Ligue final. But just a few weeks later they returned to the Stade de France and beat SC Bastia 1-0 to lift the Coupe de France, thanks to a goal by captain Jean-Claude Darcheville.
That victory allowed them to qualify for Europe for the one and only time in their history to date. Unfortunately, the adventure did not last long, as Lorient lost on away goals in the first round to Turkish side Denizlispor.
Maybe this will be the year they return to Europe. After all, seven of the last 10 teams to have taken 19 points from their first eight games of a season have ended the campaign on the podium.