Why Christian Gourcuff of FC Lorient Is Ligue 1's Most Underrated Manager
A number of Ligue 1 managers have received praise in recent years for achieving success with limited budgets; however, one top-flight boss his slipped under the radar despite establishing one of France's smaller teams as one of the better footballing sides in the league.
Indeed, Rudi Garcia and Claude Puel have been the subject of much acclaim for turning Lille and Nice into exciting and vibrant attacking sides with youth at their core, but one manager who continues to go unrecognized is Lorient's Christian Gourcuff.
Fifty-seven-year-old Gourcuff re-joined the Brittany club for his third spell as boss in 2003. At the time, Les Merlus were struggling to achieve promotion from Ligue 2 just a year after securing the greatest triumph in their history, a 1-0 win over Bastia in the 2002 Coupe De France Final.
It took Lorient just three more years to engineer a return to Ligue 1, and the shrewd and intelligent Gourcuff has since set about working his magic in guiding Lorient to a string of excellent league finishes.
The Bretons were impressive in their first season back in the top division, as then-young guns Jeremy Morel, Christophe Jallet, Mickael Ciani and 21-year-old Andre-Pierre Gignac helped them to secure a mid-table place.
Gourcuff's youth-driven coaching philosophy continued to bear fruit, with the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Morgan Amalfitano and Kevin Gameiro inspiring Lorient to a seventh-place finish in the 2009/10 season, a campaign that is undoubtedly the highlight of his time in charge.
Gameiro can be perhaps considered Gourcuff's star pupil. The striker netted a stunning 43 goals in two seasons for the club, but financial constraints forced him and Amalfitano to follow Koscielny—the defender who moved to Arsenal in 2010—through the exit door before the start of last season.
The loss of such considerable talents was a devastating blow to Gourcuff's squad, and they narrowly avoided relegation by just one point on the final day of the 2011/12 campaign. Still, it is Gourcuff's reaction to that near-miss that underlines just why he is the most underrated manager in Ligue 1.
Lorient's hierarchy was not panicked by the poor performance of last term and chose to back the manager, who in turn used the increased funds to bring Alain Traore and Benjamin Corgnet to the Stade du Moustoir.
The more expensive arrivals have made a difference, but Gourcuff has remained faithful to his young players. Midfielders Enzo Reale, Mathias Autret and Maxime Barthelme have all made multiple appearances this season, and 24-year-old Gabonese defender Bruno Ecuele Manga is in his third season as captain.
Gourcuff has again been vindicated by his decision to stick with his tested formula of building a side around a group of inexperienced yet talented individuals. Les Merlus are once more embedded within the top half of Ligue 1 and are seven points off a potential European berth.
All this has been achieved despite a nightmarish season on the injury front. Ecuele Manga, Traore and Corgnet have all spent lengthy periods in the treatment room, and the lack of reinforcements has challenged Gourcuff to extract the best from some of the lesser lights on the squad.
It is a task that he has proved more than worthy of meeting, and testament to that is the form of Jeremie Aliadiere, the former Arsenal, Middlesbrough and Celtic forward, who has scored 13 goals and 10 assists in all competitions so far.
Now in his 10th year in the hot seat with his local club, Gourcuff can look back on a period of relative success, in which he has helped Lorient take the next step following their most famous triumph. He has built a side capable of playing attractive, free-scoring football and maximized the potential of a host of promising talents.
He remains a somewhat under-appreciated coach in the eyes of many observers, but 11 years after winning the only major honor in their history, Lorient are just two steps away from another Coupe De France Final.
How fitting it would be if Gourcuff could emerge from the shadows and cement his place among the French managerial elite by securing glory at the Stade de France in the competition that started Les Merlus' upward spiral.
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