FIRST season exceptional; second season exceptionally tough. Regis Le Bris has only had two years as a head coach, but Sunderland’s new boss has already experienced the full range of emotions that go hand-in-hand with the position.

In first year in charge of Lorient, having stepped up from his former youth-development role at the French Ligue 1 club, Le Bris presided over a period of marked overachievement. Lorient had one of the smallest budgets in the French top-flight, yet after starting the season with a string of impressive victories, they finished in a hugely-creditable tenth position.

Last year, however, things were different. Lorient’s fortunes nosedived, and after a season battling in the bottom half of the table, Le Bris’ side were relegated on the final day of the campaign.

The highs were certainly high, the low that led to his departure from Lorient was certainly low. Put together, though, the 48-year-old feels the twin experiences ensure he is a much better coach now than when he stepped into his first senior position two years ago. As a result, he is confident he can handle whatever is thrown at him during his time at the Stadium of Light.

“I know I am in a much better place to take on this challenge now than I would have been before I had had my experiences with Lorient,” said Le Bris, who will take charge of his first matches as Sunderland boss next weekend when his squad splits for back-to-back friendlies against South Shields and Gateshead. “Absolutely.

“In my two years in charge at Lorient, I had the best experiences and the worst experiences, but overall, that made it a great experience in terms of my development and my career.

“It was very interesting to go through the process of trying to improve. I am sure I am a better head coach now, after good and bad experiences. And I know I will improve a lot again now I am here at Sunderland.”


This time last summer, Le Bris was one of the hottest coaching prospects in Europe. Nice tried to prise him from Lorient’s clutches, but balked at the €5m release fee they were quoted for his services.

So what went wrong in the following 12 months? The sale of some key players didn’t help, with the Lorient hierarchy opting to cash in after their surprise top-ten finish. Leading scorer Terem Moffi was sold for €30m, while Dango Outtara headed to the Premier League with Bournemouth. The influential Enzo La Fee, one of Le Bris’ key lieutenants, went to Rennes, while Adil Aouchiche left France for Sunderland, where he has now been reunited with his former boss.

None were adequately replaced, and as injuries began to bite, so the spirit and tactical understanding Le Bris has nurtured during the previous campaign dissipated. In the end, the rot became so entrenched that relegation felt inevitable.

“It was tough, really tough,” admitted Le Bris. “The first season with Lorient was incredible because the link between the squad and the willingness to improve was massive. The cohesion within the team was very high, and that is one of the main points that determines how you will perform on the pitch.

“But then the club had to sell many players. That provoked many troubles within the team. The cohesion was lower, and we also had many injuries. We had to work to deal with that, but we had to change the structure of the team and the system because we were missing some key things.

“We didn’t have wingers, for example. These experiences were tough because we all want to win. When we lose, we are not happy and it is very difficult.”

So, Le Bris knows all about the dangers of selling key players. Sunderland’s owners have stood firm so far this summer, rejecting an offer for Jobe Bellingham from Brentford just as they had turned down previous bids from Burnley for Jack Clarke.

Can they continue to hold out all summer? Or will the bids eventually become so high that a Bellingham or a Clarke, or potentially even an Anthony Patterson, Dan Ballard or Dan Neil, has to depart?

Le Bris understands the dilemma, and did not expect to receive any cast-iron guarantees when the transfer situation was discussed prior to his appointment being confirmed.

“It’s difficult to have guarantees because the market could be crazy,” he said. “I feel the ambition, and that is the main point.

“Obviously, the market and the transfer window will not be as we expect it now, but we will adapt with the circumstances and, at the end, I think we will have a balanced team with players who are able to play our style of play and perform on the pitch.”