By Ryan Fleming
You’ve heard about Borussia Dortmund and how they are the shocking, pleasant surprise of Germany’s ever-popular Bundesliga. What you probably are not familiar with is the little club situated in the North of France, near where the border of Belgium lies, called Lille.
Domestically the French club hasn’t won anything since 1955, when it won the Coupe de France, way back when the first McDonald’s opened and the UEFA Champions League was established. But don’t tell the players that. Currently Lille are tops of the Ligue 1 table and boast the league’s most potent offense. So potent in fact that Nice manager Eric Roy lamented that Lille are Barcelona-like and remind him of “a certain Spanish team that play very well.” Let’s not get THAT ahead of ourselves.
Either way, much has to be said of what Lille are accomplishing and how they are handling themselves against European competition. Despite poor results from Marseille and Lyon, both 3-1 defeats, Les Dogues are making easy work of other, apparently inferior competition. Take away the defeat to Lyon and Marseille on the 17th and 24th of Oct., which happened to be back-to-back games, the team has a mere impeccable 6-0-3 record.
Lead by the resurgence of Moussa Sow, the French-born Senegalese footballer owns the title of leading goalscorer with 15 goals, almost single-handily catapulting his team to the top spot.
In European play, the club is just as impressive. After breezing through the Qualifying Round of the Europa League, Lille squeaked through the Group Stages after beating Belgian side KAA Gent in impressive fashion, 3-0, to propel them to second in their group and into the Knockout phase, booking a date with PSV Eindhoven on Feb. 17. Much thanks has to be directed toward Lille’s leading goalscorer in European play, Pierre-Alain Frau. For a team that gets not so much undermined, but overshadowed by the bigger clubs of Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseille, Lille has had a decent run of success and deserves more credit.
Since the ‘03/04 season, Les Dogues haven’t finished below 10th and have finished in the top five four times – including a second-place finish in the ‘04/05 season and third place finish the following year. It might seem like Lille have been perennial Ligue 1 stars, but it’s quite the opposite.
After winning promotion back to France’s top flight in 2000, Lille have fared much better than those “bigger” clubs … again. See the pattern? In its first season back to Ligue 1, Lille finished in an astounding second place, ahead of all the French giants. In the ‘02/03 season, Lille struggled, finishing in 14th. Since then, Lille has made a name for itself, but for whatever reason no one is noticing, or caring to notice.
The Northern French club doesn’t boast huge names like Lyon with Yoann Gourcuff, or Marseille with Loic Remy. Lille isn’t managed by a notable presence like OM’s Didier Deschamps; instead led by a former player, the modest Rudi Garcia. The club quietly gets its job done and soon enough, they might be throwing their own revolution in France. A great change could be in the works, Lille is making noise. It is about time France and the rest of the world take notice.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at email@example.com.