The new season in France’s Ligue 1 started this week, in anticipation I read many previews telling me who the best teams would be and the dark horses etc, the usual suspects were there, Lyon, Bordeaux and Champions Marseille all favourites for the title, There was a name I kept seeing with the same prediction it worried me, all the previews tipped Rudi Garcia’s Lille for a title push, the outside bet if you will.

All this expectation should be a good thing, If “the experts” believe Les Lillois have the players and management in place to have a real good crack at the Ligue 1 title, then surely there must be something there, from following the team for 6 years now it’s not a position myself or the team are used to being in. Since I started following LOSC back in 2004 I have always viewed them as a team happily performing under the radar, no big flashy signings, a very stable club, developing good young players, European football was the cherry on top.

Not a household name by any means, however 3 Champions League appearances in the past 8 years and some great finishes in Ligue 1 make it hard to fathom that only 10 years ago the club gained promotion to Ligue 1, Bosnian manager took over a club trying to stay afloat in Ligue 2 in 1998, and by 2002 they were finishing 3rd in Ligue 1 a meteoric rise in fortunes for the small northern club.

Claude Puel - The Mastermind

Claude Puel was the man in charge when my affinity began and he had a very good team, with an excellent work ethic, Gregory Tafforeau and Mathieu Chalme were the fullbacks, I really admired Tafforeau, a no-nonsense hardworking fullback with a great left-foot, you could see the potential to be the Captain he became, Chalme I must say looking back never impressed me the way he has at Bordeaux, however he was steady and a decent defender and went about his business, I preferred the now Lazio player Stephane Lichsteiner and was happy when Chalme left to Blanc’s Bordeaux, Stephane impressed with willingness to attack and quality of crosses.

Puel’s team suffered defensively, not a week went by when there wasn’t a Tony Sylva goalkeeping error or Tavlaridis had messed up causing another goal, Vitakic, Rafael and then Plestan were all chosen as Efstathios’s partner and they never looked very solid, but somehow in the 2005/06 season they only conceded 31 goals the same amount as Champions Lyon, and finished 3rd, this was mostly down to the hard work of the midfield. Puel’s team philosophy was based on discipline, effort, and the desire to close the opponent down at all times, the less time they had on the ball, the quicker you could retrieve the ball.

Most games the team was set-up in a 4-5-1 formation with Abdul Kader Keita playing on the right as an advanced midfielder, the mercurial Jean Makoun was the general, alongside him, the long serving Stephane Dumont who was the captain at the time, ex-Tottenham man Milenko Acimovic was the “playmaker” so to speak and on the left was young local boy Mathieu Debuchy; Debuchy, Dumont and Makoun were the ones who pressured the most, and they were backed up by the impressive youngsters Mathieu Bodmer and Yohan Cabaye, this left the trio of Acimovic, Keita and Odemwingie to hit teams on the counter attack.

Peter Odemwingie

This was the team I fell in love with, the duo of Odemwingie and Keita were just breathtaking, I will never forget the first home game of the 2006/07 season what better than a match against your bitter rivals, Lille did not let the home fans down, on a high after the 2-1 away win at Rennes Les Dogues turned on the style, RC Lens were handed a thumping 4-0 defeat, Kader Keita delivering two fantastic crosses for Peter Odemwingie to put away in style, apart from a 3-0 win against Bordeaux the league campaign never got much better than that first home game, a tough Champions League campaign ultimately cost the team dear and Lille finished that season in 10th place. Victory over Milan in the San Siro followed by the high profile 2-0 aggregate defeat by Manchester United was the highlights of Lille’s season.

By the start of the 2007 season it was all change in Lille, Puel was still in charge but the team I knew and loved had been ripped apart 13 players left the Metropole that summer, Odemwingie, Keita, Bodmer. Chalme, Rafael and Tavlaridis the big name departures, in their place brought in was Marko Maric, Franck Beria and Luis Yanes.

As a fan I was gutted, I had planned a trip to Lille in March 2007 to watch them take on Le Mans at the Metropole, only to have the trip cancelled the night before due to a fire at a warehouse in London, all Eurostar trains were cancelled for 24 hours, gone was my chance to see Odemwingie & Co.

It was obvious the intentions of the Lille board, sell the stars and bring in the youth, Only 4 of the players that played in the opening win at Rennes started the first game of the 2007/08 season in a 0-0 draw at home to Lorient, a very frustrating season 18 draws in 38 league games, saw Lille finish in 7th place.

The only bright sparks of the season were the young players coming through, Cabaye, Chedjou, Rami, Mirallas and the exciting Brazilian Michel Bastos.

In 2008 the unthinkable happened the mastermind behind all the success Lille had had Claude Puel left the club, his excellent results with a small club had earned him the job at French Champions Lyon taking with him the philosophy that had led this team to Champions League football, in all fairness he had taken the club as far as he could and you cannot take away the man’s ambition, Jean Makoun followed him to the Stade Gerland, the new Lille era would start without their best player.

Rudi Garcia

Rudi Garcia was man picked to led this young team an ex-Lille player who had performed miracles with a team that had gained promotion to the league in 2004 and he took them to the heady heights of 9th a tremendous achievement, Garcia known for his attacking brand of football, how would a team brought up on a counter-attacking disciplined formation take to a forward thinking coach. Garcia went about bringing his own players in, midfield dynamo Florent Balmont was joined by Ligue 1 veteran Pierre-Alain Frau, striker Tulio De Melo, the permanent signing of Rio Mavuba who had impressed on loan, and increased minutes for young players Emerson, Rami and youth sensation Eden Hazard, the squad looked weak in areas, I had doubt over how they would cope in the 38 game season.

Three games into the season and it wasn’t looking good, a decent draw away at Nancy then a home defeat 3-1 against Le Mans, and an away loss against Rennes by 2 goals to 1, the future did not look bright at all, Garcia then signed Robert Vittek and the formation changed from what was mostly a 4-5-1 to a more attacking version of 4-3-3, Vittek and Hazard began to play more and Lille went on a unbelievable run, in 19 matches they only lost once, conceding 18 goals but scoring 31 they began to create a reputation of being a very dangerous team, scoring the 4th highest amount of goals in the league and finishing an impressive 5th, for a season that started poorly there was many positives to take, Garcia had given Lille an identity again, combining Puel’s high pressure game with an attacking mindset that teams had to be wary of.

The 2009/10 season was met with a mixture of expectation and cautiousness, Rudi Garcia was briefly sacked by the Lille board, only to be brought back in, which could explain why only two players were brought in to strengthen the side, ex-French International Goalkeeper Mickael Landreau and Le Mans winger Gervinho, the former excited me and fellow Lille fans, known for his explosive pace and goal scoring abilities he could form a potent strike force with De Melo and Hazard, Landreau a very experience keeper, brought in to try and sure up a shaky defence, disaster struck in a pre-season training session Landreau ruptured his right knee and wasn’t seen in a Lille jersey until October, a major blow to Rudi Garcia’s plans.

Eden Hazard - The Young Wizard

A very poor start to the season defeats to Lorient, Marseille and PSG in the first 4 games saw Lille with only 1 point out of a possible 12, the first win of the season came at home to Sochaux, Debuchy scoring the only goal of the game, this sparked a fantastic run over 21 games they lost only 3, 14 wins scoring an amazing 46 goals, the catalyst behind the great run were new signing Gervinho with 13 goals, youth sensation Eden Hazard and the goals of ageing striker Pierre-Alain Frau having an Indian Summer to what could only be described as a faltering career 13 goals his biggest haul since 2002, Lille ended the season with 5 wins out of 6, that last win however cost Les Dogues a place in the Champions League, losing out to Auxerre by one point, they finished the season with 72 goals scored more than any other team in the league and 40 goals conceded, only 4 teams conceded fewer, Eden Hazard picked up the award of best young player in Ligue 1 for the second year in a row, more importantly they were amongst the top-tier of French clubs again, their star players linked again with the cream of European Clubs.

In what has been a very slow summer for transfers, Moussa Sow of Rennes has been Lille’s only new signing, this season they will rely heavily on the stars of the last campaign, I would love all the “experts” to be correct and Les Dogues push on and challenge for the title, however with the history the club has you will forgive me if I am very sceptical, Pierre-Alain Frau will not have another 13 goal season, the chances of Tulio De Melo staying fit for a whole year are just as unlikely and with the transfer deadline still 21 days away, somewhere a big name player is going to move, and replacements have to be bought, if Gervinho, Hazard, Rami and Cabaye are all still present at the Metropole come the first of September I will be a very happy fan. Lille are a selling club and you could argue that last season they punched above their weight, Lille have to sell their star players to make money, with the new 50,000 sweater stadium due to be opened in 2012 bills have to be paid, every player not matter the talent has a price.

When you see a team you support constantly linked with having a good season, it puts you on edge, why can’t they just leave us alone, and let a great season happen by surprise, experts, bookies, ex-players the more they mention your chances the more you believe it yourself, only then to be brought crashing back down to earth when you lose 3-0 at home to a relegation candidate, luckily Lille started their season with a good 1-1 draw away at another top tip Stade Rennais, I just hope all the expectation doesn’t turn into a curse, and Rudi Garcia and his men can play to their best, Champions League qualification for me would be a great year.

I was lucky enough to visit Anfield in March and watched my team in the flesh for the first time and just like in 2007 I plan to visit Lille this season and watch a game at the Metropole, not sure who the opponent will be and it doesn’t matter, I will be going to see Hazard, Gervinho, Cabaye & Co. Hoping nothing stops my journey this time, not only because I want to visit the Metropole and sit in the Stade du Nord with the hardcore fans, but I feel that if I don’t visit this year and see the current star players then just like in 2008, 2011 could be the start of another rebuilding job for Rudi Garcia.

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6 comments

August 10th, 2010

Very interesting post, I never really looked into Lille before, and now I realize that they always do pretty well and seem to be getting better over time. And now Blanc calls up Rami, Debuchy, and Cabaye to the France senior squad.

I’m sure you’re disappointed not to see Lille in the Champions’ League. But I’m rather excited to see Auxerre in it. As I am moving to Auxerre in a month and it will be interesting to see the competition in my new home town.

gibfootball

August 10th, 2010

Auxerre had a fantastic season, I was shocked they maintained that level throughout the whole season.

Of course I would have preferred Lille to be there but I hope Auxerre do well, I always want the Ligue 1 teams to do well.

Hoping Rami and Cabaye play some minutes I think they could do really well.

August 11th, 2010

I actually do have a bit of a soft spot for Lille. I was hoping Rami would eventually make his way to OM. My biggest criticism of Lille is their ethically questionable relationship with Lyon. Lille Chairman Michel Seydoux and Lyon stockholder Jerome Seydoux are brothers- which gives Lyon preferrential transfer treatment (first choice of players, good prices and the ability to block players transferring to OM or elsewhere).

I always support more competition in Ligue 1- makes it more exciting and builds credibility for the league. Auxerre had a good season-but Lille would have been a better representative for the league on the European level. Well, with their luck-maybe not : )

gibfootball

August 13th, 2010

I totally agree with the Seydoux brothers, it does fell at times Lille are a feeder club for “Les Gones”

I am hoping that Lille get a good run in the Europa League to keep the likes of Hazard and Gervinho interested.

kelele

August 16th, 2010

Allez le LOSC

Lille is now a stable team with ambition. Very soon, we will have a stadium that we will be proud of, and then I really hope that we can keep our best values and identity!

If so, if money and values are combined in Lille, then you can expect a new great competitor in France with regular performance on european level.

Go Lille!

gibfootball

August 16th, 2010

Hi Kelele

I am really looking forward to LOSC playing in the new stadium, I hope it means we can be an attractive club for players to come to, and then over time become a stronger team.

Disappointed with the performance last night, didn’t show much creativity at all.

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