The industrial North of England is no longer the same as George Orwell covered in his celebrated The Road to Wigan Pier but if you were to make your way there from the French Riviera, you would definitely find a culture and a temperature that was unsettling and unfamiliar.
It is a sentiment that Andy Delort would well understands. In 2013/14, Delort was playing for Tours, who finished in 8th place in Ligue 2 and tipped for big things. He has reached the top level now, but his journey there has been anything but smooth.
That spectacular season, quite unexpectedly after his early career, he racked up a huge 24 goals from his 36 appearances making him one of the most talked about names outside the top tiers of European football and being in France, it was almost inevitable he would transfer outside his homeland.
In the end, despite rumoured interest from a host of English clubs, he joined Wigan Athletic on deadline day, the money that Uwe Rosler paid out going a long way to securing the future of Tours despite being comparatively modest (around £3 million) in English terms.
A Move Back Home
His time in Lancashire was difficult. With little time to settle in a new country, he struggled to make an impact. His troubles were not helped by the dismissal of Rosler, and new manager Malky Mackay had his own method which saw the young Frenchman cast aside. Eleven appearances for Wigan and no goals. Little wonder that just a few months in, he was rumoured to be looking for a move back home.
The DW Stadium, it seems, was not where Delort wanted to be.
“Wigan wasn’t really my first choice,” he told Midi Libre at the time, “if Lens had been able to sign players, I would have probably signed for them. I am not moaning, it is a life experience that will help me grow and enable me to maturie. The stadiums are always full, the fans are loud, the people here live football.”
In February 2015, Delort was back in France and back at Tours, though his second spell was not quite as spectacular as the first and the summer saw him move on again, this time to Caen.
Another good year brought another move abroad, this time to Mexico, but when that didn’t work out again, he was back in France in January 2017, moving to Toulouse. Two unspectacular campaigns with Les Violets followed which ended up with Delort moving to Montpellier on loan at the start of the current campaign.
That happy habit of knowing where the target is
Although Delort has not always been a regular goalscorer, he has that happy habit of knowing where the target is, as any highlights video of his will attest. He resembles, in some ways, Jean-Pierre Papin, and the former Marseille striker is someone Delort has talked about at length.
“I love Papin,” he has admitted, “I sometimes watch videos of Papin before games and it helps me know what kind of finish to go for if I get a chance. When I was little my Dad was a massive fan of his, and he used to show me endless video tapes.”
It is at Montpellier that Delort has found his feet again, found his joie de vivre. Born in Sète, a little over half an hour away, it has been a triumphant homecoming so far, with the local boy finding his best form since he left Tours.
Playing along with Gaëtan Laborde, the two have eleven goals between them (Delort has five, Laborde grabbed two against Marseille last week to take his tally to six) and have formed an understanding based on hard work for one another. Laborde has described his now 27-year-old colleague as a ‘dog’ because he chases the ball so much. Delort admits that he is working so hard for his team that if he comes off the field feeling anything less than dead, with cramps and pains, he doesn’t feel like he’s been in a match.
It is clearly working. Thirteen games into the season, Montpellier sit third in Ligue 1, with almost double the amount of points of Delort’s parent club Toulouse. While Delort and Laborde have contributed over half of the their side’s goals, their success has been based as much on defence as anything, with just seven goals conceded so far.
Montpellier’s best finish since 2012.
There is, of course, a long long way to go in the season. Yet if things pan out the way they are, this would be Montpellier’s best finish since winning Ligue 1 back in 2012. A note of caution. Things that seem too good to be true often are. Montpellier did not spend big over the summer, and the acquisition of a loanee striker who has been sputtering in terms of form for a few season does not guarantee success.
In terms of expected goals, La Paillade are outperforming their numbers in both attack and in defence. It is more likely that they will suffer a levelling out over the next part of the season than they will continue to excel. For now, at least, Montpellier are flying high and for now, at least, Andy Delort is having fun. Wigan Pier must seem a lifetime ago.