Having recently turned 30, Jeremie Aliadiere has been in reflective mood of late – and he has found much to savour about his current situation. "It's been my best season ever on a statistical level, in terms of goals scored, matches played and everything else," he told FIFA.com.
"It's also been the season that I've enjoyed the most and the one in which I've felt at my best physically. I have a great time every weekend." Above all, the Lorient forward is making the most of regular playing time and, in his second campaign at the club, he knows that is not something to be sniffed at.
When he joined Arsenal at the age of 16, Aliadiere was considered one of the brightest young talents in French football, and no less shrewd a judge than Arsene Wenger believed he was destined for great things. He went on to spend much of his time on the bench at the London club, but he has no regrets about his time with the Gunners.
"When people ask me if I regret leaving for Arsenal so young, I tell them if there's one thing in my life I don't regret, it's that," he explained. "I experienced some great moments and got to know the very highest level. Even if I didn't play much, I was part of the squad and got to train every day with huge players, great professionals that I learnt a lot from both on and off the pitch."
Of course, sharing a dressing room with such icons of the game had a downside too when it came to competition for places. "The problem was that during all the years I was there, there was Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Sylvain Wiltord and Robert Pires – super players, all of them. And the moment I left was perhaps the moment when I would have started to have more playing time, because quite a few attacking players had left as well.
"That said, I'd been at Arsenal for so many years without being a starter that I was really frustrated. Arsene tried to change my mind and told me I was going to play a lot more, but we'll never know what would have happened if I'd stayed."
That was the turning point. I'd rediscovered the desire to play and told myself I absolutely had to find a new club.
Unfortunately for Aliadiere, his fortunes did not undergo the radical transformation he had hoped for after departing north London. On the contrary, he was loaned out to Celtic, West Ham United and then Wolverhampton Wanderers, each time failing to make his mark due to injuries or other difficulties.
He was finally granted more minutes on the pitch when he sealed a permanent move to Middlesbrough in 2007, but the team's style of play did not suit his own and, three years later, he found himself injured again and without a club. Having reached his lowest point yet, he even considered hanging up his boots.
That was when the man who had first brought him to England lent a timely helping hand. "I returned to Arsenal, where I spent four months," recalled Aliadiere. "Arsene Wenger welcomed me back, took care of me and got me doing intensive work with the physio. When I then began training with the first-team squad, I felt good around the other players.
"That's when I told myself I was still young, and when I realised I still had talent and some good years in the game ahead of me. That was the turning point. I'd rediscovered the desire to play and told myself I absolutely had to find a new club."
Re-energised, he signed for Lorient in summer 2011, with the Brittany club's coach Christian Gourcuff offering him a first taste of top-flight football in his native France. "He's the one who restored my desire to enjoy myself on the pitch," noted the striker.
"He put his faith in me as soon as I arrived and showed me that he was really counting on me. That did me a lot of good." Lorient's expansive style of play and emphasis on movement proved a good fit for the former Gunner as well, with his team-mates zipping the ball around and looking to feed the forwards in space.
After settling in during his first campaign, Aliadiere now seems to have shaken off the physical problems that ravaged his time in England. "I'm reaching a certain maturity," he said. "I know my body well and I'm able to manage how I train. It's also the first time I've been able prepare fully for a season, taking part in all the training sessions and the pre-season friendlies."
Those efforts have paid off and he has helped himself to 12 goals so far, putting him on track to score more times in two years with Les Merlus than during his entire decade in England. The contrast could hardly be more acute, and few could say that the 30-year-old does not deserve his late blossoming and the promise of more productive years to come.