One of the biggest success stories in France’s Ligue 1 this season has to be Lille. The club are no strangers to success this decade after they won the league and cup double in 2011, but that was their first league success in 57 years. But this season has been the clubs strongest since then and they have dabbled in the transfer market last summer spending 1/10th what many European superpowers spend to get into the top 4 and Champions League.
Currently Lille are in 2nd place and while they are 17 points behind league leaders PSG they are also 5 points ahead of Lyon. But how have Lille improved over recent seasons?
Lille brought in 16 players in the transfer window spending £48m doing so, that is an average of 3m per player, incredible business in 2018/19 and to further that they were clever as the average age of the players is 25, not too old or young and just in their prime.
And the club made a profit this season on players as they sold on 20 players and got £54m making a clear profit of £6m. Their highest sale was Yves Bissouma who went to Premier League side Brighton for £17m. And the clubs biggest spend was Jonathan Ikone who came from PSG for less than £5m. Lille have been incredibly business minded, spotting talent but refusing to pay through the nose for it.
Many players for Lille came back on loan but some of their best buys have been Jose Fonte who has been terrific in defence this season and was bought from China, sure he was 34 and a possible risk but for less than £2m he has brought with him bags of experience. Jonathan Bamba came on a free transfer from Saint Etienne at just 22 and has been another integral part of the squad.
Manager Christophe Galtier has been able to identify who he needed and in what position and has made the most of it with a tight budget in only his 2nd season with the club. Owner Gerard Lopez has been clever enough to give Galtier a chance at coaching Lille, not because his resume is brimming with trophies or that he has years of experience but because Galtier was a former player who played almost 100 times for the club in the 1990s. This project is about bringing a togetherness to the club and rooting it in older players having a chance to come back and prove themselves.
Lopez bought Lille in 2016 with a project of getting to the Champions League, which the club are now on course to do 3 years later. The key has been how they have sold for more and bought for less. On a lower scale Lille have played the market much like Monaco and it is bringing with it much success.
Can Lille get a Champions League place this season? The odds look good. Not only are they 5 points clear of Lyon, but even if they slipped to 3rd that would still be good to qualify for the qualifiers. But it is all about getting that automatic place. Lille have been 2nd for most of the season and it would seem cruel if Lyon swallowed up that chance in the final straight.
For now Lille look good for 2nd- a great ownership that has blossomed in just a few seasons and a tight way of working on limited budgets has actually brought the team together, and pound for pound Lille have proven to be the most improved team in France this season.
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