In the Brittany seaport of Lorient, last season’s 15-game winless run is just a bad memory.
After escaping relegation with one game to spare, the small soccer club founded in 1926 is off to its best ever start in the French league.
With a new attacking-minded coach in charge, Lorient has mustered 13 points from its six opening matches and lags only three points behind leader Paris Saint-Germain ahead of Sunday’s match against Nantes.
At 46, Regis Le Bris was appointed as a replacement for Christophe Pelissier, after 10 years in charge of the club’s academy. He has brought a fresh set of ideas and the ambition to develop an attractive brand of soccer based on high intensity.
“I would like this team to give pleasure to everyone,” Le Bris said at the start of the season.
Looking at the fans’ delight following the 3-1 win over seven-time champion Lyon on Wednesday, it’s fair to say that Le Bris’ method has been a big success so far.
“We played with solidarity, commitment, and the idea of surpassing ourselves,” he said after that match. “These values have been there since the beginning of the season and are still growing.”
In a season with four teams going down, putting the unexperienced Le Bris in the driving seat was a risky bet. He only got his diploma in May, but with his deep knowledge of the club and players, Le Bris has quickly gelled his side together.
Among those standing out this season, no one more than 22-year-old playmaker Enzo Le Fée embodies the club’s revival.
Le Fée, who has been nurtured at the club under Le Bris, struggled last season and thought about joining another team until he found out his mentor would take control.
“He asks me to try things, to free myself, because he knows that I am better in these situations,” Le Fée told local newspaper Ouest France. “He has given me the keys so that I can develop and be important for the team.”
Le Fée scored a superb direct free kick against Lyon, and his technical skills and vision have been blossoming in the constantly-adapting system put in place by his coach.
Le Bris, who holds a doctorate in physiology and biomechanics, has also been able to develop a close bond with the new players.
Speaking to the French league website, new recruit Gédéon Kalulu relished an evening during the pre-season preparation when players wrote personal questions to Le Bris without him knowing who was asking.
“There were questions about his private life, his method, his way of thinking, his requirements, his idols in soccer … Lots of questions,” Kalulu said. “It was good, because you don’t normally share this kind of moment with your coach. We have to talk about the field and tactics, about expectations, but here we could discover the man behind the coach.”
With attacking talents like Dango Ouattara — three assists and two goals in six matches — and Terem Moffi, Lorient can look at the future with confidence. But its biggest challenge will be to last, and Le Bris is clever enough to know that harder times will come in a season that is only six matches old.
“We are not carried away by euphoria. We know Lorient’s place in the league,” he said. “Things are kind of aligned at the moment, and we can surf on that, but we must also know that it is very fragile.”
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