Pitchside

Gourcuff’s love affair coming to a painful end

Pitchside

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In three spells stretching over 25 years, Christian Gourcuff has turned FC Lorient from an obscure club from the backwaters of Brittany into an established name in France's top flight, but a painful dispute that has overshadowed this season is set to bring a remarkable association to an end.

Last Wednesday, the 58-year-old Gourcuff told journalists assembled at his house that he had "decided not to decide" whether to accept the offer of a new two-year contract to keep him at Lorient beyond the end of this season.

It was another clear indication of the coach's unhappiness with president Loïc Féry and a sign that his future lies away from the Stade du Moustoir.

Things have not been the same since Féry agreed to sell France under-20 World Cup-winning midfielder Mario Lemina to Marseille for €5 million just before the transfer window closed in September. It was a decision taken against Gourcuff's wishes, as the club once again allowed a leading player to depart for one of their rivals.

Since 2009, Alaixys Romao, Jérémy Morel, Morgan Amalfitano and Fabrice Abriel have also left Lorient for Marseille, while Christophe Jallet and Kévin Gameiro have gone to Paris Saint-Germain. Laurent Koscielny joined Arsenal and Arnold Mvuemba was sold to Lyon.

Lorient have survived losing all of these players and are in their eighth consecutive season in Ligue 1, but Gourcuff has grown fed up, the sale of Lemina leading him to criticise Féry in several newspaper interviews.

In most cases, the coach, having publicly turned on the president, would have been sacked by now. But Féry, the young anglophile president who makes his living in London's financial sector, knows that Gourcuff's status as a local icon complicates things.

"All of this could have been avoided if we had a coach who simply said he was disappointed at losing a player, but understood the need to balance the books," Féry said in an interview with France Football in December.

"Mario Lemina was not forced to go to OM. He could have stayed but he chose to go to a club playing in the Champions League and where he could multiply his salary by five."

Féry added that he had "great confidence" in Gourcuff, but he surely knew that the offer of a new contract would be rejected. The president also says that Lorient "have not prepared for a future without Christian Gourcuff", but now the coach has been given one more week to provide a definitive response to the offer on the table.

If, as expected, Gourcuff does not give a positive answer, Lorient face an uncertain future.

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The off-field situation has had an impact on results, and Friday's 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain left them with just one win in their last nine games.

They are 12th in the table, eight points clear of the relegation zone, so there is perhaps no immediate cause for concern, but what about the longer-term?

Nicknamed Les Merlus (The Hakes), Lorient were a tiny regional league side when Gourcuff, a qualified mathematician, became player-coach in 1982 at the age of 27. As the club's wesbite says, it was the start of "a very long and very beautiful story" and within three years he had taken them up to the second tier.

Gourcuff left in 1986 but returned five years later, having had spells working in Canada and as a maths teacher in the interim. Over the next decade, the club worked their way back up the pyramid and got their first taste of the top flight in 1998. He left again in 2001, this time to take over at Rennes, but came back in 2003 to establish them in Ligue 1.

Now sponsors have threatened to withdraw if Gourcuff departs, and the case of Auxerre serves as a warning. Two small towns of a similar size, and both indelibly linked to one man.

For Gourcuff at Lorient, read Guy Roux at Auxerre. The Burgundy club have never quite been the same since Roux departed as coach after more than four decades and are now fighting against relegation to the third tier.

But fans can draw encouragement from the fact that Lorient won the French Cup in 2002 without Gourcuff. And he has implemented a clear style and a 4-4-2 formation that would surely be maintained if his current assistant Sylvain Ripoll is, as many expect, appointed as his replacement.

Gourcuff, meanwhile, will undoubtedly find a new club, with Bordeaux, where his son Yoann starred on the field, a possible next destination.

Andrew Scott | Follow on Twitter

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