No bonuses and a mass exodus – How PSG-conquering Lille’s Ligue 1 champions fell apart

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This season is a reality check for Les Dogues, who have no way of competing at the highest level after almost a year of troubles off the field

The gloss has quickly worn off Lille’s Ligue 1 title win – a remarkable underdog upset which left Paris Saint-Germain in second place at the end of last season – and the fruits of that success are unravelling under a new regime.

On the pitch, Lille were deserved title winners, but off the pitch, there has long been a much gloomier outlook.

In December last year, majority shareholder Gerard Lopez was forced to sell up by the club’s main £ 200 million ($ 275m) creditors, the American private equity firm Elliott Management Corporation and the multinational bank JP Morgan Chase.

Restrictions caused by the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the collapse of the French league’s TV deal with Mediapro made matters worse and the takeover also saw visionary sporting director Luis Campos leave the club.

Amid the turbulence, a team financed by Campos’ masterful sales of £ 145m ($ 200m) duo Nicolas Pepe and Victor Osimhen, and led by head coach Christophe Galtier, halted PSG’s run of seven titles in eight years.

It was a historic achievement for a club with an estimated wage bill of less than a quarter of PSG’s.

Behind the scenes, however, there was further acrimony when the players found out that their request for a bonus for winning the league was rejected in negotiations with new president Olivier Letang.

In a stunning arrangement by the standards of modern football, Lille’s players did not earn a single extra cent for taking the title on the last day of the season.

Burak Yilmaz Jonathan David Lille GFX

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Former PSG, Rennes and Reims executive Letang was from then on condemned to be unpopular within the dressing room. With further problems afoot, Galtier stepped down just two days after he won the league and joined Nice.

Stars Boubakary Soumare and Mike Maignan quickly followed him out of the door, joining Leicester City and AC Milan, respectively.

It became clear that the project sold by Campos to the players was no longer one being pursued by the new owners, who are looking to take a more cautious financial approach.

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Despite that, there remain concerns over the club’s cash flow, with reports of payments to some agents being now overdue. That has led to even more unrest in the dressing room with the defending champions now languishing in 10th place this season.

As financial concerns linger, a host of the club’s younger players are likely to seek an exit from the Stade Pierre-Mauroy this summer.

Canada striker Jonathan David is expected to command the highest fee. Since the start of the 2020-21 season, he is the third-highest-scoring forward aged 22 or under for non-penalty goals in Europe’s top five leagues – behind only Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe on 19 goals.

With Mbappe, Haaland and Fiorentina’s talented Serbian forward Dusan Vlahovic all likely to move next summer and cause a ripple effect, there’s expected to be a huge market for strikers like David.

Sources close to the Ligue 1 club believe that he will look to leave Lille next summer, two years after joining from KAA Gent for a £ 27m ($ 35m) fee.

The striker, who has been scouted by Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, could also attract interest from a high-pressing team like Liverpool due to his ability to make high-intensity runs.

His goal against Brest last time out was his seventh of the season but Lille ultimately relinquished their lead to the minnows and fell to a disappointing home draw.

Alongside David, high-value assets such as midfielder Renato Sanches and Sven Botman are likely to depart.

Much of the rest of the squad, including France international Jonathan Ikone, might struggle to find their way out in the context of a Covid-hit transfer market.

Lille can no longer even dream of competing with the Qatar-backed PSG, who added Lionel Messi to their squad this season.

With the likes of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos, Nuno Mendes and Georginio Wijnaldum also now in their ranks, Mauricio Pochettino’s side are ready to put Lille back in their place in Friday evening’s clash.

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