Unorthodox tactics and reasons behind Lorient relegation: Sunderland's Regis Le Bris unpacked

After four months of waiting, Sunderland fans finally know who will lead their team in next season's Championship. Regis Le Bris was confirmed as the club's new head coach for the coming campaign, with the Frenchman officially taking control of the Stadium of Light hotseat on July 1.

Le Bris has been Lorient's head coach since June 2022, working his way up through the ranks from under-19s manager to the first team, and led the Orange and Blacks to an impressive 10th in his first season in senior management. However, last season Lorient were relegated having finished second off bottom in Ligue 1.

Despite being highly-rated as a coach and youth developer in France, the 48-year-old arrives as somewhat of an unknown entity among Sunderland supporters. Here, we examine Le Bris’ history in the game, record at FC Lorient, the tactics he will likely employ on Wearside and what the Black Cats faithful can expect from the Frenchman.

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History and record as a coach

Le Bris has worked his way up through the ranks in French football, starting out as head of academy coaching at French third-tier side Wasquehal in 2003 for a year, before moving onto Ligue 1 Stade Rennais for eight years until 2012. After impressing in developing the Rennais youth talents, this earned him the move to become Lorient under-19s and academy manager.

At Lorient, he was promoted from academy chief, to reserve boss and eventually was appointed as the first-team manager in June 2022. Within his first senior management role, Lorient went on to finish 10th in Ligue 1 during the 2022-23 season, with Le Bris improving the side’s 16th-placed feat the season prior to him taking the top job.

Within his first campaign as boss, Lorient began the season in impressive fashion, reaching as high as second after game week 11, only one spot behind Paris St Germain, especially commendable as Lorient possessed one of the lowest wage bills in Ligue 1 - a €471m difference to PSG at the point they were three points behind the Parisien powerhouse.

However, Le Bris’ Lorient did drop off within the second half of that season, and ultimately finished the campaign in 10th, which was seen as a surprisingly impressive feat from the Lorient hierarchy given their lack of financial firepower to compete in Ligue 1. That 10th-placed finish - one above Will Still’s Reims in 11th - was in no small part down to Le Bris’ tactical knowledge and effective style of play.

That impressive first season in charge saw a mass sale of his best players at Lorient from the 2022-23 campaign, with the club cashing in while the stocks of their superior talents were at an all-time high. Lorient sold the likes of Dango Ouattara to Bournemouth for £20m in January 2023, then star striker Terem Moffi and midfield maestro Enzo Le Fee, both for £20m-plus fees, in the following summer.

Those departures of key figures in Le Bris’ side go a long way to explain why Lorient were relegated last season. Unfortunately for Le Bris, the Lorient board failed to replace that quality in the summer window heading into last season. But on the flip side, the club did recruit some players for significant investments, including former Manchester City star Benjamin Mendy. Lorient lost two top players in Badredine Bouanani and Montassar Talbi to the African Cup of Nations mid-season, which derailed them further.

As last season began, Lorient had the eighth biggest budget in Ligue 1, but that was inconsequential as the club suffered a shocking relegation into the French second division with Le Bris at the helm during his second full season in senior management. Le Bris left the club - destined for Ligue 2 after a seven-year hiatus - with two seasons under his belt and a record of 24 wins, 18 draws and 34 losses during his 76 matches in charge.

FC Lorient’s president Loic Fery said in a statement announcing his departure on Saturday: “I would like to thank Régis for his many years at FC Lorient and regret that the results of recent months have not better reflected his daily investment and professionalism since his arrival at the club. He is a hard worker, and I wish him every success in his future endeavours.”

Tactics used at Lorient

Le Bris wants his side to play in a very distinctive way - setting up in a 3-4-2-1 shape going forward and building out in an unorthodox style. No team in Ligue 1 during the 2022-23 season where Le Bris guided them to 10th, had a higher percentage of passes ending in their own third of the pitch than Lorient with 32 percent - and had least percent of passes ending in their opponent’s third with 19 percent.

Le Bris instructed his side to pass the ball around close to their goal between the goalkeeper, defenders and central midfielders when they played out from goal kicks and from defence, in order to outnumber their opposition’s press.

“We indeed work a lot on numerical superiorities at the start of the game and in midfield.” Le Bris said in 2022.

Essentially, he will want the Black Cats to play the ball around in their own third when starting build-up, feed central midfielders - Dan Neil or Pierre Ekwah - who will decide to trigger the attack, feeding the ball into forwards quickly who will look to form triangles for quick passes whilst other off-ball runners drive forward to create numerical overloads in attack with fluidity. It is a very direct style and not possession-orientated like a Pep Guardiola side.

Sink or swim?

Looking at the appointment with a glass-half-full, Le Bris comes to Wearside with 19 years experience as an academy and youth coach, indicating he will play a massive role in developing the talented crop of youngsters on Wearside. He has a very distinct style of play which will suit the technical, rather than physical, side Sunderland currently have and get the best from their abilities. Lorient were the 8th highest average goalscorers in the league last term which shows he is not a defensive-minded or negative head coach.

With the glass-half-empty, Le Bris did oversee their relegation which was a monumental drop off from the season before, conceding the most goals in Ligue 1 last term with 66 and having went on a seven-game losing streak. Le Bris is very inexperienced as a head coach, with only two full seasons as a senior side manager prior to taking the Black Cats job, taking on second tier bosses with vastly more experience and knowledge of the Championship.

Only time will tell whether his appointment will prove to be the correct choice, but thankfully the post-season managerial search saga at Sunderland - which encompassed a plethora of candidates who passed up on the role - is finally concluded. After over four months of waiting, the Black Cats finally have a head coach at the helm, and supporters can finally rest knowing that the farcical chapter has finished.

Football insider Fabriozio Romano stated amid Le Bris’ appointment: “There’s going to be also a wider restructure of the coaching staff with many new faces joining Sunderland AFC”, indicating there will be changes to allow Le Bris to bring in some of his own backroom staff to the Stadium of Light, and that the club’s hierarchy trust in him as a long-term head coach.

The Wearside hierarchy clearly have faith in Le Bris, and the dedicated Sunderland supporters will back the Frenchman to the hilt come August. As to whether he will be successful, underwhelming, or even a failure - the proof will be in the pudding. If Le Bris is backed in the window by chairman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and equipped well by sporting director Kristjaan Speakman, and can stamp his signature on the side quickly, then it seems like a sensible and positive fit - but expectations must be tempered given his record and inexperience.

It is a risky appointment, but then again, there is never a dull or boring moment on Wearside. The Black Cats hierarchy have made a rod for their own back over the last year. But now, they have a new leader at the helm to steer the ship which has been treading water amid a catalogue of disappointing decisions, and only the future knows whether Le Bris will sink or swim at Sunderland.