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Exclusive: ‘We’ve come a long way’ – Le Douaron on Brest’s incredible season

Exclusive: ‘We’ve come a long way’ – Le Douaron on Brest’s incredible season

*Editor’s note – This interview was conducted by Cyril Morin of Eurosport France and adapted for TNT Sports UK by Pete Sharland. It is being published in a Q&A format with the questions in italics. You can watch Ligue 1 exclusively live on TNT Sports and discovery+ in the UK.

Jeremy Le Douaron, some of your teammates have admitted they no longer want to hide talking about it, but your coach and president are still quite reserved on this topic. Between us: is the Champions League inevitably on your mind?

Jeremy Le Douaron: Naturally, we think about it. Before, we joked about it a bit because it seemed utopian to us. And maintaining our place in Ligue 1 wasn’t even guaranteed, so we weren’t yet mentally free of that burden. Now that we’ve secured our place we can allow ourselves to dream. We’re ambitious but we try to remain humble. It’s on our minds, yes. Europe would be great. Even if it’s not the Champions League.

Girona in La Liga this season, Leicester in the Premier League a few years ago… Do you discuss these examples among yourselves in the locker room?

J. LD: Honestly, not really. We’re focused on our journey without overthinking it. We enjoy ourselves, we’re a bunch of friends. We work with a lot of humility, without paying too much attention to what’s happening around us or what has happened in other leagues. This end of the season is going to be exciting for everyone, for the club and for the city. We’re eager to see how it ends.

You describe yourselves as “a bunch of friends,” and that’s also the impression from the outside. Is that your main strength this season?

J. LD: Absolutely. It’s a united group that works well. Nonetheless, we’re a small club. We’ve come a long way. This season is quite exceptional and historic for the club. We can allow ourselves to dream. Our group, our mindset, and our work have brought us here. We deserve credit.

Brest’s French forward #22 Jeremy Le Douaron celebrates after he scored the first goal for his team during the French L1 football match between FC Metz and Stade Brestois 29 (Brest) at the Saint-Symphorien Stadium in Longeville-les-Metz, eastern France, o

Image credit: Getty Images

When manager Eric Roy arrived just over a year ago, people doubted that appointment because he hadn’t coached for a long time. Today, Brest is one of the best Ligue 1 clubs with a very clear philosophy. How did he help you to progress?

J. LD: He arrived at a time when the team was sinking. Things weren’t going well with the former coach, morale was low, confidence was at its lowest, and the results were disappointing. We were in the relegation zone. Eric Roy arrived in January and his arrival gave us a breath of fresh air, something positive. He found the right words, gave us a lot of confidence. There were many dialogues with us. On a human level, it went very well. Then, he perfectly identified the qualities of each player to put them at the service of the collective.

What kind of manager is he? Rather distant, or more of a “father figure”? It’s often said that paternalistic coaches do better in today’s football…

J. LD: That’s exactly it. He’s close to his players. We have a young group that needs to have a strong relationship with their coach. He regularly takes players one on one, gives them little tips, makes adjustments. He’s not the type to shout during training. That’s why the group appreciates him.

Just now, you seem to have come out of training… what advice did he give you today?

J. LD: Ah, is it that obvious? (He laughs). Today, he asked me to play much simpler in the build-up phase, telling me that I could have much more freedom in the final third, trying a lot more things there. But before that, he has wanted me to play more simply, in one or two touches, without losing the ball. These are always useful pieces of advice for my progression.

One of your team’s great strengths is direct play. But how do you work on that in training, concretely? It seems less obvious than possession play, for example, where you can clearly visualise passing patterns, etc…

J. LD: In attack, we have players capable of holding onto the ball. That’s useful! People often associate direct play with just kicking the ball upfield. For us, it’s not at all like that. Far from it. For us, the first thing is to push the block up, to use our forwards who are comfortable in the air, and then to initiate our pressing to win second balls. We started working on it a year ago but gradually, we managed to bring variety, with positional play, or playing short from the back… That’s what makes us strong and less predictable too.

Brest’s French forward #22 Jeremy Le Douaron (R) celebrates after scoring Brest’s first goal during the French L1 football match between between Stade Brestois 29 (Brest) and RC Strasbourg Alsace at the Francis Le Ble Stadium in Brest, western France, on

Image credit: Getty Images

Direct play quickly became one of your strengths when Eric Roy arrived. Did you discuss this with him when he came?

J. LD: Yes. Because last year, it was very different. We absolutely needed points, we were coming from far behind… There’s Steve Mounie, we needed to use his strength. His aerial play pushes the block up. It worked very well, so we continued. And this season, we continued but with the accumulated confidence, we widened the spectrum.

Last year, you stayed in Ligue 1 thanks in part to a very large number of headed goals scored. This year, Brest is still the team that succeeds the most in crossing… but no longer the one that scores the most with the head. How do you explain that?

J. LD: I think there are two things. First, the fact that we varied our build-up play. And then now, teams and defenders know what to expect from us. They know we have a lot of height and good headers upfront. I’m not sure there’s necessarily worse success in finishing I think it’s more a change in how we score. Last year, it was the forwards who scored, now we notice that it can come from anywhere: Madhi Camara scored a hat-trick this weekend, Kamory Doumbia scored four goals, Hugo Magnetti scored goals too… The danger comes from everywhere because we use more pull-back crosses too.

And if the midfielders are also high up the field, it’s also thanks to your intensity in regaining possession. How do you work on that aspect?

J. LD: I think it mainly comes from the quality of the players. Our midfielders are very good players on the ball, but also hard workers. I can tell you we see it as well in training. Overall, our team likes it: putting intensity into runs, into duels… At the end of our matches, the team that is fading is often our opponents. Against Marseille, with ten men, we scored at the end. Physically, we’re ready for anything.

PARIS, FRANCE – JANUARY 28: Jeremy Le Douaron of Brest salutes the supporters following the Ligue 1 Uber Eats match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Stade Brestois 29 (Brest) at Parc des Princes stadium on January 28, 2024 in Paris, France

Image credit: Getty Images

Next season, with European Cup matches, it will be harder to keep up the pace…

J. LD: (He smiles). That is still a bit far off. We’re still aware that many teams are close behind us in terms of points. Eleven matches, that’s a third of the season. Playing every three days, we only talk about it jokingly…

Pierre Lees-Melou is one of the best players in Ligue 1 this season. What impresses you the most about him?

J. LD: It’s very simple: he can do everything. Technically, passing, in high-intensity runs… He can score, give good balls. He’s complete, he’s having a great season. It’s great to have him with us this season. And off the field, he’s very cool, joking but also humble. It’s nice to work with him.

Brest’s French forward #22 Jeremy Le Douaron celebrates scoring Brest’s second goal during the French L1 football match between Stade Brestois 29 (Brest) and Montpellier Herault SC at Stade Francis-Le Ble in Brest, western France on January 14, 2024.

Image credit: Getty Images

Did he share his Premier League experience with you?

J. LD: Yes, because we’re very curious about that. Here, very few have experienced the Premier League, and I’m one of them. For him, it didn’t go very well because Norwich ended up being relegated. But he learned a lot of things there: managing intensity, rhythm. He played in crazy stadiums. He told us that in England, as soon as there was a big tackle, a good clearance, the crowd would applaud. It must have been exceptional to experience.

Your teammate Marco Bizot is the second goalkeeper in Ligue 1 with the highest save percentage, behind Gianluigi Donnarumma. Is it also difficult to score against him in training?

J. LD: (He laughs). Sometimes, we manage to find the secret to scoring against him! He’s a very tall goalkeeper and it’s not just from this year. Last year, already, he was crucial for us staying in Ligue 1. He’s an international. And this season, he’s still at the top.

So, what’s the trick to score against Bizot? Promise, it will stay between us…

J. LD: A little feint in a one-on-one… Often, that makes him a bit shaky. But first, you have to manage to find yourself face-to-face with him.

What could prevent you from finishing on the podium in Ligue 1 this season?

J. LD: Perhaps thinking we’re better than we really are. But I don’t think that will happen to us. We all have our feet on the ground, the players, the staff, the club. There’s no reason to ease off. There are eleven very important matches left for everyone. What we’re experiencing now is something beautiful.

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