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Aliadiere fighting fit and flourishing at last


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Aliadière has hit the form of his life with Lorient

In a decade spent in England nobody ever really got to see what Jérémie Aliadière was truly capable of. Now, as he approaches the age of 30, the striker is showing the kind of form with Lorient that Arsène Wenger clearly thought he was capable of when he brought him to Arsenal as a raw teenager.

It is not stretching things too far to say that Aliadière is a contender for player of the year in France. He has scored 10 goals and given seven assists in 23 appearances to turn Lorient into genuine European hopefuls.

Only three players - Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Dimitri Payet - have been directly involved in more goals in Ligue 1 this season, which is remarkable for someone who never reached double figures in any of his years in England.

The impact of his performances has been stunning. Lorient's 2-1 win against Evian-Thonon-Gaillard on Saturday means they already have as many points this season as they managed in the whole of the last. This, indeed, could turn out to be the club's best-ever campaign, beating their run to seventh place in 2009-10, when they were inspired by the 17 goals of Kévin Gameiro. At the moment, Lorient are seventh, but are just three points adrift of Nice in fourth.

Aliadière will turn 30 in March, but this is his first proper season playing in his home country. He signed for Lorient in the summer of 2011 but admits that he needed time to adapt to Ligue 1 and injuries reduced him to 18 appearances last season. He scored just twice.

This season, he has not just started scoring goals, but has scored important goals in important games. He netted against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes on the opening day, and has since hit the target against Montpellier, Lyon, Marseille, Saint-Etienne and against Rennes in the Breton derby earlier this month. The latter goal, in particular, was an absolute beauty. There was also a Thierry Henry-esque finish in a 2-1 defeat at Nancy - incidentally, that is the only game in which he has scored this season that Lorient have lost.

He was among the goals again on Saturday, scoring a penalty that he himself had won to set Lorient on their way to that victory against Evian.

The key to his form has been coach Christian Gourcuff's decision to play him as the spearhead of the attack, rather than as a deep-lying attacker.

"I used to play as the main striker when I was younger, but I stopped doing that when I went to England," he told L'Equipe recently. "It's not easy to get back that goalscorer's mentality. Before, when I got into the penalty box, I would try and play a pass. Now, I look for an angle to shoot. Things now come to me instinctively."

Gourcuff, meanwhile, admits that he "can't see any flaws" in his star man.

Watching Aliadière in action now, it is hard to believe that he came close to quitting football altogether in 2011. Without a club at the end of that long, injury-blighted spell in England, he was training with Arsenal when the chance arose to join Lorient.

By returning home to flourish, Aliadière has done the opposite of what many of his compatriots are doing. He says that French players should go to England and see what the Premier League has to offer, but there are few regrets when he looks back on his time across the Channel.

Despite being best associated with Arsenal, where his career began, he only ever played regularly with Middlesbrough. Yet, even there, he never managed more than five goals in one campaign. The style of football played by Gareth Southgate, he admits, never really suited him.

In contrast, there is something of the way Lorient are run under long-serving Gourcuff - he is a decade into his third spell in charge - that reminds him of his first club. "What Lorient do is exactly what I was doing for all them years at Arsenal, it is very similar," he recently told me, in fluent English spoken like a native Londoner.

The way he embraced life in England means that a return must tempt him if the opportunity ever arises. For now, he is embracing life at Lorient, but Newcastle showed interest in him in January, and it surely won't be long before more English clubs come calling.

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