1987 is hailed as a golden year in French football. It was the year that Karim Benzema was born, as was Samir Nasri, Jeremy Menez and Hatem Ben Arfa. These players made up the squad that won the 2004 U-17 European Championship, beating Cesc Fabregas's Spain 2-1 in the final (it was Nasri that scored the winner).
Another player born in the same year slipped through the net. Kevin Gameiro is the same age, 23, but was declared too small to succeed at Clairefontaine, the French national training center. So he took the longer route to Les Bleus, via local side Chantilly, twice-relegated Strasbourg and his current team, midtable Lorient.
Gameiro is the unheralded player in the France squad that played Luxembourg Friday (and won 2-0) and faces Croatia on Wednesday. Yet with 10goals in his last 11 games, he is among Europe's most prolific forwards and will be one of the summer transfer market's most coveted players. In the last month alone, newspapers have linked him to the following clubs: Arsenal, Juventus, AC Milan, Newcastle, Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur, Marseille, Valencia, Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon.
"It's not distracting for me to hear that there are 10 clubs watching me," he told 20 Minutes. "On the contrary, it motivates me to try to do even better, so even more, even bigger clubs, can start to follow me."
His confidence is not misplaced. His smart decision-making, off the pitch as well as on it, has undoubtedly helped him. In January, he was offered a large pay-rise to join Bordeaux, but given its current status in the middle of Ligue 1, did not see the move as a step up, so rejected the offer. To make it even worse for Bordeaux, he scored a hat trick against it in a 5-1 win shortly after.
Gameiro had reportedly agreed terms with Valencia in January, but Lorient held out for €12 million ($16M) when the Spanish side only offered €8 million ($11.3M). It's a sign of Gameiro's mentality that he refused to sulk when the move did not happen.
That same strength of character was apparent in his Ligue 1 appearances for Strasbourg in 2008-09. He was 19, the team was on its way down for the second time in three seasons (Gameiro had scored two late winners at the end of the Ligue 2 season to help clinch its promotion) and yet Gameiro never stopped trying, never stopped fighting. As one France-based scout put it: "He had the right attitude at all times. Some of his teammates' heads dropped, but his never did. He stood out like a beacon."
The difference now is that he affects games much more: he is
Gameiro does not have Guillaume Hoarau's height, Andre-Pierre Gignac's power or Loic Remy's pace but he has a game intelligence that marks him out from the others. "He's the best striker in terms of movement in this division, so annoying to play against," Sochaux defender Damien Perquis told
France coach Laurent Blanc has recognized as much, giving him two short substitute appearances, against Belarus and Brazil, and keeping him in his latest squad. Gameiro briefly flirted with the idea of representing Portugal before the 2010 World Cup (he qualifies through his paternal grandfather), but sensibly took the long-term view.
He will need to make the same astute decisions when choosing his next club, which will surely be this summer. He has one more year left on his contract, and while Lorient president Loic Fery has mooted the idea of "doing a Bordeaux" and letting his contract run down (as Bordeaux did with Marouane Chamakh before his Arsenal move), Gameiro is ready for a new challenge.
"If I want to go up a level, I think I have to leave at the end of this season," he explained. "I know that I can work peacefully here, and it's different at a big club where there is media pressure and more fans, but that's the direction I'm heading." His target, then, is to finish the season as top scorer. In a recent
There are two things Gameiro needs to remember: one, at Lorient the team is built around him, which works thanks to his partnership with midfielders Morgan Amalfitano (seven assists) and Arnold Mvuemba; and two, Blanc has warned against joining too big a club. "Many talented players, like Kevin, want to join a big team but are then often not part of the club's future project," he said. The example of Benzema, who has only recently become a key player at Real Madrid, over 18 months after joining, did not need to be mentioned.
If his previous record is anything to go by, Gameiro will make the right decision again, and finally fulfill his dream of listening to the Champions League music from the pitch, and not his television.