Rarely have followers of France’s top flight seen a seemingly-ambitious project spiral into such a state of turmoil. As the Ligue 1 season is drawing to an end, Lille face a series of games where losing is not an option, if they hope to stay up. To make matters worse, it seems that a few of the squad’s regularly featured players are not taking their club’s conundrum very seriously.
L’Équipe’s front page on Tuesday read “Lille spirals out of control”, and delved into the Northern club’s internal tensions and issues, a few days before their crucial match at home against Metz, in a stand-off between two clubs currently sitting in the relegation zone.
Lille manager Christophe Galtier was angry to find out that two of his players were seen in a nightclub in Lille from Thursday night to Friday morning, only a few hours before their trip to the Vélodrome where they lost 5-1 to Olympique de Marseille. Both were starters during that game, which explains the mediocre team display.
Le LOSC supporters were quick to condemn the squad, with “les DVE” (Northern stand fan group and one of Lille’s oldest) releasing a statement expressing their anguish and disillusionment, “These mercenaries, who for some, spend their weekends in Lille nightclubs indulging in alcohol following losses. These mercenaries who humiliate the club and don’t hesitate to disparage their fans home and away.” A very understandable stance considering where their club currently sits in the table.
L’Équipe also reported that the day after their loss, three players ditched the coach’s match review session. Luis Araujo was excused in light of the imminent arrival of his new-born child, but Farés Bahlouli and club captain Ibrahim Amadou should have been present.
According to France Info, Ivorian forward Nicolas Pepé was benched due to inappropriate behaviour during the week, compared to that of a teenager, after having brought a dangerous object to the club’s headquarters. Adama Soumaoro arrived late to Friday training, and refused to wear the captain’s armband. To add to player-related issues, Christophe Galtier has been told he can’t play Vincent Enyeama because of the latter’s off-the-pitch issue with the club.
Club president Gérard Lopez’s advisor Luis Campos spoke up in the dressing room after their loss to Marseille saying, “It’s a disgrace, we’re idiots! We need a reaction against Metz, worthy of the challenges we face! Everyone needs to take responsibility!”
Christophe Galtier’s defeatist attitude, albeit warranted, does not invoke any hope of survival amongst Lille fans four match-days before the end of the season. He has publicly stated that certain players are not good enough to play, and has confirmed that their match against Metz on Saturday could be decisive. Currently, they have an 84% chance of being relegated. If there was ever a time to beat the odds, le LOSC better hope that it would happen this weekend.
When speaking on RMC’s radio program Team Duga on Tuesday, Gérard Lopez addressed the issue of the players’ “supposed” lack of interest and professionalism stating, “That’s what it may look like when seeing certain images. But from an internal perspective, that’s a wrong interpretation of things. (…) I can hear and (partially) see that the players are invested. They may not always have a response before being faced with a dilemma. But when we play well, they feel that something special can happen at any time. They never play freely.”
On the topic of players’ unprofessional attitudes, Lopez denied it saying, “No, it’s incorrect. I very, and I mean very rarely, react to information published in newspapers or elsewhere. From what I’ve read, the information was either false or taken out of its context. Had we won the match against Marseille, the information published would not have been the same.”
Regardless of who is right on the topic, Lille’s situation remains dire, and their PR remains as unclear as ever. The rumours of Lille players partying the night before one of their most difficult and important matches, players ditching video sessions and immature behaviour are unacceptable, and would only complicate Lille’s current club situation. Lille may very well have to sell players over the summer to balance their books – a matter which won’t be made any easier considering their transfer ban imposed by the DNCG, the French football financial watchdog.
The Hauts-de-France club has made the headlines for the all the wrong reasons this season, and from here, the only way to salvage any form of pride or consolation, is to step up during their last four games.