When Romain Vincelot signed for the club in February it marked the start of a new chapter in a journey that has seen him travel from France to pursue a lifelong dream of a career in the English game.
The Frenchman burst on the scene when he signed for Dagenham & Redbridge in 2010 and helped fire the side to promotion from League Two via the play-offs with some key performances.
Yet the path from France to Dagenham is not a well-trodden one and for Vincelot it was a case of packing a bag and taking a chance.
He told E10: “When I was in France, I played four years professionally at the equivalent of the Championship and then League One but the atmosphere is not the same. In the third tier in France there are not many people in the stadiums. After my final year there I thought ‘I can’t do this anymore, I’m losing my motivation, there is not the right atmosphere for me’ because I can’t play my best unless there is a good atmosphere.
“I had to go to England. It was my dream since I was a kid watching Eric Cantona for Leeds and Manchester United. I was nearly 24 and knew it was then I had to go, so I said to my agent in France: “Don’t even look for something because I want to go to England.” He could not help me so I just took my bag and got a friend to help me and that’s it.
“I came over and got trials with Charlton, Brighton and Dagenham and the first club that wanted to sign me was Dagenham.”
It was a gamble that paid off as Vincelot grabbed his opportunity with both hands and he found himself on the winning side with the Daggers at Wembley in May 2010, a remarkable turnaround for someone who had been without a club or concrete plan just a few months previously.
“When I first arrived there I was on the bench for two months, so I was starting to go crazy in my mind, I wondered what I was doing in England, I was not on big wages and struggling a bit with my girlfriend in London and I was starting to wonder if I’d made a mistake,” he continued.
“Then I just started to play and I was so hungry that I just kept playing right until the play-off final. It shows you how football can go, four months before I was without a club and then I was playing a final at Wembley. It was a great return of the effort I put in.
“It was a great moment of my career and my life, it was a harsh period too but made me stronger as a player and a man.”
Vincelot took to League One like a duck to water and was the Daggers’ leading scorer the following season with 12 goals, and it was that form that caught the attention of Brighton manager Gus Poyet who swooped to sign him for the forthcoming season, thus completing a remarkable 18 month journey from the French wilderness to League Two, League One and then the Championship.
At the Seagulls Vincelot found chances harder to come by and after spending time at Gillingham on loan this season, was released by Albion in January.
“The step to the Championship when I joined Brighton was a big one. A much bigger jump than from League Two to League One. The way play Brighton play is very hard but so enjoyable too, you always keep the ball,” he said.
Having lived in Leytonstone upon arriving in London as well as playing four times against Orient in the 2010-11 season for the Daggers and scoring twice, Vincelot was well aware of the O’s and had been impressed by what he’d seen, meaning the decision to sign in February was not a difficult one.
“I had a good idea of Orient and liked the way they played. They tried to play from the back and it’s encouraging because in League One you didn’t see that much,” he said.
“I’m finding life good here. I’m really happy to be back on the pitch and there’s a great atmosphere which helps.
“Everybody is smiling at the club and there is a lot of banter which just makes it really easy to settle in. It’s always nice to have a compatriot like Mathieu Baudry around too, he’s a good lad and it’s nice to talk about France sometimes.”
Joining in the midst of a good spell, the Frenchman had to bide his time before making his first start against Crawley at the end of February, but as before in his career, he seized the chance when it came and has been a pivotal part of the O’s midfield since and instrumental in the excellent form of late.
“When you arrive somewhere new you have to grab the opportunity when it comes, because it will come but you don’t know when, you just have to be ready,” he continued.
“There is depth all over the pitch. It’s good, it means that everyone has to fight for their place, that’s why we are where we are at the moment because nobody can sleep. You have to be on top of your game and it has to be hard for the gaffer to pick the team.”
“I’ve played all over but centre midfield is where I can express most of my quality. I like to defend but also I like to attack and it’s where I get the most chance to do that. I love to score goals, I’m hungry for that, but the most important thing is to be solid then if you can get a goal it’s a bonus.”
The O’s upturn in form in recent weeks has been spectacular. At the time of writing they sit top of the League One form table and Vincelot puts the excellent run down to belief.
“It’s a lot of little things put together. We have a really good squad with the right spirit and I think we have been doing the basics really well. When you do the basics well and you play with belief and that’s when the little things happen like Jamie Jones will make a great save or Nathan Clarke clears the ball off the line against Preston because of that belief. Then when you have that belief you get luck as well,” he added.
So what adventure does the future hold for Vincelot?
“At the minute I haven’t even asked myself about it. We have four interesting games to go so I don’t want to distract myself by thinking beyond that, but yeah I’m really happy here so we’ll see.”
The interview with Romain was published in the E10 Magazine on Monday against Bury. Stay tuned to Orient Player to hear a full version of the interview.