When taking a look back at Medhi Gregory Giuseppe Lacen’s career to date, it swiftly becomes clear that the 27-year-old midfielder is no stranger to taking things two or even three steps at a time. Indeed, the Paris-born Algeria international once made the leap directly from France’s third tier to Spain’s top flight, while in 2010 he appeared at that year’s FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa just five months after his first call-up for Les Fennecs.
“Getting this far has been down to luck,” the current Getafe stalwart told FIFA.com. “I was playing for Valence and in 2005 we finished runners-up in the French third division. We earned promotion to the second division but we had problems getting paid. We’d gone four months without wages and in France you can legally break your contract in that situation.
“At that point, Dmitry Piterman showed an interest in buying Valence,” Lacen continued. “I’m not sure why, but he didn’t end up doing that. However he did sign me up to play for [his then club] Alaves. Without making me do a trial or anything he offered me a three-year contract, which is how I managed to move to the Spanish Primera Division, which was like a dream for me.”
Lady Luck was certainly on his side because, just days before the 2005/06 French season had been due to start, Valence were punished for their financial problems and barred from taking part. “Those players simply had to go out and fend for themselves,” said Lacen, with a sigh. “Some of them ended up going to third-division clubs and others had to give up the game. I was very lucky.”
Yet a solid career cannot be based on good fortune alone, with this talented central midfielder growing in stature over three seasons at Alaves and three subsequent terms at Racing Santander, prior to signing on the dotted line for Getafe in summer 2011. “We started the season badly and even found ourselves in last place,” said Lacen on a difficult beginning to life at his new club.
“But after we hit the bottom we bounced back with a good run of form and now we’re doing really well,” he continued, with Los Azulones currently in tenth spot after 29 matchdays. “We’ve got a good enough team to stay in the top 10. At a personal level I’m happy because I’m getting quite a lot of games and I’m satisfied with my performances, although I know I can contribute even more.”
Turning to international affairs, Lacen had no shortage of options when it came to nailing his national-team colours to the mast. And though born in the French capital to an Algerian father and Italian mother, it would be the draw of his father’s homeland that proved strongest. “I knew right from the start that I’d no chance of playing for France, because of the quality of the players available to Les Bleus and the fact that at 20 years of age I was still in the third division.
“So, once I got the chance to get an Algerian passport I didn’t hesitate,” he continued. “That said, I’m still annoyed at myself for not joining up with the national squad back in 2006 when I was first called up. I regret not having been a part of it earlier, as nowadays I’m constantly keeping my eye out for the next squad list.”
Having appeared in all three of Les Fennecs’ encounters at South Africa 2010, when they bowed out at the first hurdle, Lacen continues to thoroughly enjoy his time on international duty. “Right from the off I was given a spectacular welcome. Even though my first game was a 3-0 home defeat against Serbia, I was so impressed by the amazing atmosphere in the stadium and the passion of the fans. Their commitment really spurs me on.”
Algeria have struggled for form, however, since said appearance at the global showpiece on African soil. “I think the key [to our dip in performances] came in our first home game after the World Cup, when we were beaten 2-1 by Gabon. It was a blow and it hurt us. Then we suffered another very significant defeat when going down 4-0 to Morocco. And those games are like a Barça-Madrid clásico! That was very tough to take.”
Nevertheless, Lacen is confident that under the guidance of well-travelled Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic, at the helm since June 2011, Algeria are once again on the right track. “He’s given us more experience in tactical terms,” said the midfielder. “We’ve got very good players who are at top-flight clubs in major European leagues, and I think that what we’ve been lacking for some time are greater tactical demands.”
Recent results would appear to underline that an improvement has been made, with the new supremo tasting a debut draw against Tanzania in November 2011 before guiding the team to consecutive victories over the Central African Republic, Tunisia and Gambia. “I think we’ve got a good enough side to qualify for the 2013 African Cup of Nations and Brazil 2014,” Lacen declared confidently.
With his sights thus set on big things for his country, Lacen is also positive about his progress at an individual level: “I’ve come up from a very low starting point and I’ve always managed to keep taking steps foward. I don’t set myself objectives, but I’ve been in the Primera Division for over five years now which is very good going.”
And though Getafe still have realistic ambitions of challenging for a place in Europe, there is another more personal goal Lacen would like to achieve while at his Madrid-based club. “[Zinedine] Zidane has always been my idol, ever since I was little. I’ve played against him and got his shirt, which is great, but I never got to speak to him. Since we’re living in the same city at the moment I hope to get the chance to do that.”
Asked if he saw his long-term future in Spain, the player replied: “Well, if I were offered the chance to go back to France... (hesitates) But it’d have to be a really really good offer!
“That’s because there aren’t many places in France where you have the same quality of life as here, while I've also got my daughters to think about," he added as the conversation drew to a close. "I’m not planning on turning their lives upside down. It was hard for me to settle during my first year in Spain, but I’m very happy here now and I’d like to stay even after hanging up my boots.”