Super Joel Campbell – Next off the Lorient Express?

Whether the Arsenal of 2011/12 evolves into a 4,4,2 for next season, whether RVP stays or goes, I am sure we all agree that Chamakh and Young do not appear to be the answers we seek. The very fact that that it has been the young Henry we have turned to in recent weeks and not the Young Park, I think tells us all we need to know. I would argue that in Gervinho and Theo Walcott we do have 2 players better equipped than many to support van Persie, and I have high hopes for Afobe but there is some compelling evidence that our longer term alternative attacking option is currently at Lorient.

So here are a few factors in favour of Super Joel Campbell, following Super Kevin Campbell in to Gunners affections:

After starring as a raw 19 year old for Costa Rica in the Copa America, playing all 3 games, and scoring and assisting against Bolivia, many top clubs were alerted. This included Real Madrid and Barcelona. For those who criticise Wenger for moving slowly this was the complete opposite. Wenger very uncharacteristically openly spoke of the move before a pen had been put to paper..

“Joel Campbell has already shown that he is a player with great ability, and has also performed well on the international stage at a young age. We look forward to the formalities of the transfer being completed and working with Joel when he joins us at Arsenal.”

Wenger and Arsenal had been convinced that they would secure a work permit for this season as Campbell had begun playing full international football. Sadly this was not the case, but the fact that Wenger signed Joel with every intention of integrating in the first team squad speaks volumes.

Faced with the same scenario he had with Vela some years earlier Wenger needed to select a suitable placement for this season. Somewhere close, not Spain, where Grimandi and others could keep an eye on his progress. Crucially he needed to find a home where Campbell could adjust to European football but where the philosophy was similar to that of the Arsenal.

A surprise to some observers, but perhaps not those who understood, that Wenger chose FC Lorient, a middle of the road Ligue I side in Brittany. Since the signing of Laurent Koscielny there has been and unofficial link between the two clubs and so far all dealings have been positive.

Lorient President, Loic Ferry is a London based business man who met and discussed the interaction between the 2 clubs in the summer of 2010. Remy recalled when asked:

“As I live and work in London, Arsene Wenger offered to meet in person. During this meeting, I told him we were interested to take Francis Coquelin on loan. Before being certain that we would accept to transfer Koscielny, Wenger agreed to the loan of Coquelin, who become the first of several Arsenal players who have joined Lorient in the past two seasons.”

However the key to the success of Dealings to date actually I believe lies more with the coach of Lorient, and his particular style. Christian Gourcuff, (yes it is his father) has been coach at Lorient in 3 spells. Like Wenger he is a great thinker and never truly hit the heights as a player. He became a player coach of Lorient in 1982 and signed on to do a mathematics degree at the same time. Like Wenger he sees the result at any cost as an insult to football and it has to be played the correct way. In 1983 he was quoted (I translate roughly!)

“The FC Lorient will always strive to care for the manner, by respect of the players of the public and soccer to the exterior one as to residence. The search for the result at any price this is the death of soccer” (Sound familiar?)

The expansive game played by the Lorient of today includes a focus on neat, controlled passing and movement off the ball, is an aspect of the game that Gourcuff prides himself on. This has been noted over the years and Arsène Wenger is a self-proclaimed fan of Lorient’s style.

Perhaps in the same was the same way that the likes of Crewe and Southampton in England have developed a unique footballing style in their academies, Lorient has this is France and Gourcuff, like Dario Gradi at Crewe overseas the club philosophy. It is not a wealthy club so since his third spell began in 2003 Gourcuff has find rough diamonds and polish them to sell on. Brilliant recent examples and hugely positive for Joel Campbell are 2 of the top strikers in France. Gourcuff plucked an unknown 21 year old Kevin Gameiro from Strasbourg in 2008 where he has only managed 50 appearances and 10 goals in 3 seasons. Three seasons, later after 50 goals in 110 games with Gourcuff he was sold, as the top striker in Ligue 1 for 11m Euros to PSG, with future add ons. A similar story as well for Marseilles striker, Andre Pierre Gignac. Gignac was also moulded between the ages of 19 and 22 by Gourcuff, at Lorient. It was also Gourcuff in 2000 who signed an unknown from Marseilles reserve and make him his midfield fulcrum.  A young man named Seydou Keita.

The evidence is strong therefore, that Campbell will return to the Emirates for pre-season in July a more complete player than the one who we sent there last August. Before examining Campbell’s experience it would be logical to compare that of Francis Coquelin, who enjoyed last season with Gourcuff. When the young Frenchman went to Lorient on loan it was as a sweetener in the deal that brought Koscielny to the Emirates, and he had only appeared for Arsenal’s 1st team on 3 occasions.  Gourcuff did not throw Coquelin in at the deep end but gradually introduced the youngster into his midfield. In a 40 game league season, he appeared on 24 occasions initially primarily as a substitute. However towards the end he was a regular and the lynch pin of the Lorient midfield, starting 13 games towards the end of the season. After a season with Gourcuff Coquelin had forced his way into the France squad for the U20 World Cup and played 90 minutes of all 7 games en route to the semis. I don’t think there is a single Arsenal supporter who has not been more than pleasantly surprised by the Francis Coquelin who returned from Lorient.

It would appear that Gourcuff is treating Campbell in the sane intelligent fashion and easing him into the fray and not overplaying him. Two thirds of the way through the Ligue 1 season Joel has started 7 matches and come on for the last 20/25 minutes in a further 9. Lorient have a few injuries up front, including I believe both Gooner old boys Alliadiare and Sunu so Campbell should increase gradually his game time. Lorient play the same formation as ourselves and JC has played both up front and cutting in from the left, and it is here he has his most joy, with 2 goals and one assist to date. He has 2 great feet, enormous body strength, pace with the ball at feet and a fearsome strike but thankfully unlike perhaps Wellington Silva he appears very level headed, mature and keen to learn. Indeed these quotes from the young Costa Rican came only 2 days after he has left a certain Puyol flat on this arse on more than one occasion as he scored in his country’s 2-2 draw with the world champions. He spoke with French Football Weekly last November:

“Every game is very hard, both home and away, it’s always hard. It is a good league. Defenders both from Africa and European are very tough. I want to play every game this season, but I know I have to practice very hard to play.”

When asked what he thought of his new team and the style of play under Christian Gourcuff, Campbell was very complimentary:

“They are a very good team, they like to play good football, similar to Arsenal and Barcelona. It is a lot fun to play here.”

In summary there seems to to be a huge amount of positive indicators surrounding this young man all of which suggest he should have an impact for the Gunners next season.

– Wenger stuck his neck out for Joel publically ahead of the transfer which is unheard of.

– At 19 he is already a regular and a goal scorer for Costa Rica

– If the work permit has been forthcoming he would have been in the squad this season.

– He has been on loan at a club who play the Arsenal way, with a coach who shares the Wenger philosophy. Indeed Gourcuff may have inspired a young Wenger.

– He has a year to work hands on with the coach who spotted and nurtured Gignac and Gameiro, top scorers in Ligue 1 in recent seasons

– The same coach who appears to have been the making of Coquelin and indeed Laurent Koscielny who he plucked from Ligue 2 obscurity in 2009.

– Campbell himself when interviewed on joining and asked about his strengths said

“Well, I’m good in one against one and I am a player who knows how to score goals. I play forward, I can play on both sides and in the middle.

Just the sort of player we need to back up RVP and our wide players ad for those who have not yet seen a glimpse of our future please enjoy Super Joel Campbell making a fool out of Puyol and other Spanish giants last November.

Until next time thanks for reading

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