Few could have guessed that with four rounds left to finish French Ligue 1, PSG would not be the leader of the competition. The almighty Parisian team sees the reissue of the league title in danger due to the spectacular season that Lille is doing, a historic reborn and eager to fight the hegemony of Neymar, Mbappé and company.
More than one will be surprised by the leadership of the northern French team, but the truth is that Lille is getting used to fighting with the biggest players. Last season they finished in fourth place (Ligue 1 was suspended due to the pandemic) and the previous one in second, surpassed only by PSG, but their history goes back much further.
Lille is a history of French football. The LOSC (Lille Olympique Sporting Club) was the result of the merger between Olympique Lillois and SC Fives in 1944. Since then, the Bulldogs, as they are popularly known, have won three league titles and six Cup titles.
The French team dreams of repeating the milestone of the 2010/11 season, when they were able to win the League-Cup double at the hand of Rudi Garcia, who led a young squad brimming with talent where names such as Eden featured. Hazard, Gervinho, Adil Rami or Yohan Cabaye.
From that moment, the northern team began a progressive decline motivated by the departure of its key players. The sale of its stars, mainly motivated to clean up a battered economy, caused the degeneration of a team that almost ended up losing the category in the 17/18 season, a season that began with Marcelo Bielsa on the bench.
But how do you explain the success you are having this season?
One of the keys to Lille is knowing how to move around the market. Finding young players with the potential to develop them and be able to sell them for a large sum of money is a model that has been very successful in recent seasons.
The millionaire sales of its footballers have set a tonic: Nicolás Pépé arrived for 10 million euros and went to Arsenal for 80 (record transfer), Rafael Leao landed free and left almost 30 'kilos' and 22.5 were paid for Victor Oshimen, who later left 70 million in the coffers.
These are some examples of the policy of Lille, which then reinvests part of the profit in more young talent, such as Jonathan David (the most expensive signing in the club's history, 27 million), Jonathan Ikoné, Jonathan Bamba or Timothy Weah.
In addition, the success in the incorporation of veterans at zero cost such as Burak Yilmaz (35 years) or José Fonte (37) is also part of this recent success.
As a consequence, this Lille that jeopardizes the supremacy of PSG does not reach an average of 25 years among its players.
Pragmatism by flag
The manager, Christophe Galtier, is undoubtedly one of the great keys to Lille's resurgence. The Frenchman is knowing how to make the most of the quality of his footballers to fight for the title. Also on a psychological level, as demonstrated by the mental strength when they recently came back from Olympique de Lyon (2-3) or beat PSG 0-1 away from home.
His arrival in 2018 was a breath of fresh air after the stage that he lived with Marcelo Bielsa, stopped in the middle of the season and after which a heart attack salvation was achieved.
The Frenchman, a pragmatic technician where they exist, has known how to build a team that is difficult to sink your teeth into. In fact, Lille have the best defense in the championship and know how to exploit the speed of their attackers by going against them.
The hunger of young people to do something great, added to the claw and character that veterans like Yilmaz inject, is an ideal cocktail to challenge the millions of PSG.
Currently, Lille has a young, promising and ambitious squad. Galtier does not have a 'eleven' type and takes advantage of the versatility and characteristics of his players depending on the needs of each game.
Still, there are some key players, starting with the goal. Mike Maignan (25 years old) is an underdog. This season he has only conceded 22 goals and it sounds like Milan's future against Donnarumma's uncertain future.
Then there are the central pair, a mix of seniority and youth between José Fonte (37) and Sven Botman (20). The Turkish Zeki Celik (23) and the African Reinildo Mandava are the most used in the wings.
In the center of the field is where there is a greater rotation of players. Although Benjamin André (30) and Boubakary Soumaré (21) have recently formed in the so-called engine room, it is also common to see the Portuguese Xeca (26) and Renato Sanches (23), former Bayern Munich players, or Turkish Yusuf Yacici (23), author of 7 goals in Ligue 1 and as many in the Europa League.
At the extremes, Jonathan Bamba (24), Nanitamo Ikoné (22), Luiz Araújo (24) and Thimothy Weah (20), son of the mythical George Weah, are the ones who share the minutes of the game.
At the tip of the attack there is also rotation. The Canadian Jonathan David (20), the most expensive signing in the club's history (27 million) and Burak Yilmaz (36) are the ones who have played the most, but it is common to see them accompanied by a band player like Weah or Ikoné himself.
Recent club sale
Despite the great financial gain of the bulldogs in their transfer policy, Lille continues to carry a large debt that last December led to the sale of the club. The until then owner, the Hispano-Luxembourgish Gerard López, in turn owner of the Lotus team in F1, got rid of his shares in favor of the Merlyn Partners fund, also from Luxembourg. Thus, Olivier Létang is the one who now holds the position of president.
During his tenure (which began in January 2017), López was attended by former FC Barcelona director Marc Ingla, who at the end of last year decided to resign.