Lorient’s ascent towards the top of Ligue 1 in recent seasons has been impressive, with Les Merlus following up their tenth-place finish in the 2008/09 campaign with seventh spot last term. What's more, this time around they are poised to go one step further, with sixth place and a European berth firmly in their sights.
Forward Kevin Gameiro and midfield man Morgan Amalfitano have been integral to the club’s recent success. The pair arrived on the Atlantic coast in 2008 and have since developed one of the most potent understandings in French football, while their form this term has been particularly eye-catching: Gameiro notching a club record 20 goals in Ligue 1 and Amalfitano weighing in with nine assists.
The duo’s on-field chemistry is plain to see, and they appear to be on a similar wavelength away from the pitch too. “The most important thing for us is continuity,” Gameiro told FIFA.com. “We’re managing to finish higher up the table every year, and on a personal level I’m scoring more and more goals.”
Amalfitano agrees and added: “We’ve been making constant progress for the last three years and things are only going to improve. Our strength as a group has allowed us to reach sixth place and prove our worth as individuals.”
Spanish recipe for success
Teamwork is very much the watchword at Lorient, and under Christian Gourcuff’s stewardship the side has developed its own brand of slick, one-touch football. “Here at Lorient, we ask our forwards to go out there and score. We know all about Kevin’s qualities, and when the squad is settled it’s easier for him to do his job,” said Gourcuff, who has been at the helm since 2003.
Gourcuff is a keen admirer of Spanish giants Barcelona, and Amalfitano says this is reflected in Lorient’s style of football. “The manager tries to instil the same values into us. It’s all about fluid passing and the importance of winning back possession,” he explained. “Like many others, he (Gourcuff) is a big fan of Barcelona and that shows on the pitch. Still, I don’t think we’re quite at their level yet!”
“We enjoy our football and try to make it just as enjoyable for our fans to watch,” said Gameiro. It is an approach that continues to pay off for Lorient; they have won two and drawn one of their last three matches, and between them Gameiro and Amalfitano have played a hand in every one of the side’s last eight goals.
Amalfitano alone has laid on a third of Gameiro’s strikes this season, and he feels their on-field rapport is something that comes naturally. “This is our third season playing together. Our understanding has developed on its own – it’s not something you can force,” said Amalfitano.
“It’s natural, you can’t explain it,” chipped in Gameiro. “We instinctively know where to find each other. We’ve both got different playing styles: Morgan is a more technical player and operates in a deeper role, while I like to play off the defenders’ shoulders.”
By virtue of his Portuguese ancestry, Gameiro was asked to represent A Selecção das Quinas in 2009 by then head coach Carlos Queiroz. He declined the invitation and opted instead to pin his colours to France’s mast, for whom he won his first cap in September last year. “Being part of the French squad helps you grow faster as a player. I haven’t had too many chances to prove myself but I know the team can benefit from my fighting spirit and the work I put in up front.”
All evidence suggests that it is only a matter of time before Amalfitano receives his first call-up with Les Bleus. “I’ve had a preliminary call-up, which is another step closer. One of my team-mates has been called up, so why not me? I’ll just try to keep going the way I am and not worry about it too much – even if I've loads of objectives in my head.”
Now Lorient’s all-time top scorer with 48 goals, the in-demand Gameiro is determined to add to his tally before the season is out. “I want to end the campaign as [Ligue 1] top scorer. I’m only one goal behind Moussa Sow, who’s in good form at the moment. We’ll see how things stand at the end of the season. I can’t look any further than that”.
Amalfitano, for his part, is also reluctant to look too far into the future. “I don’t like to get ahead of myself. The most important thing for me is to help the club finish in sixth place. The five remaining matches will obviously decide my future.”
Unbeaten in eight matches and within touching distance of European football next season, the future certainly looks bright for Lorient.