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FM20 Stories The European Journeyman

Journeyman – 22 – Lille – Banging on the door again

This is one episode of a wider series. To instead start at episode one, please click here.

Banging on the door that’s locked forever.

After episode 21’s novel retrospective, it’s back down to business. It’s the 2024/25 Ligue Un season with Lille, and we are desperately trying to knock PSG off of their almighty perch at the pinnacle of French football.

Change takes time. At the time of writing I have been Lille manager for exactly one year to the day. I’ve brought in 21 first team staff (exiting 7), signed 15 players (selling, loaning or releasing 40!) and have managed Lille in exactly 50 competitive matches, winning 32 and losing 10.

In terms of change, Kotter’s model above really can apply in a sporting scenario as it does in business, especially when analysing the (re)building of a football club. I won’t break down each step, but if change management interests you at all, I’d recommend the practitioner course by APMG. Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent!

Just when I think the heights of our managerial success have elevated us to a new level of intellectual conversation, I realise that I’ve somehow locked the Audi key inside the car, and have to call Craig (Shakespeare), my short-tempered assistant manager to help me get to training.

CS, not impressed.

In the car on the way to ‘work,’ Craig and I discuss how new goalkeeper Pontus Dahlberg (13 apps, 19 conceded, 3 clean sheets, 6.90) and record-signing right back Youri Regeer (11 apps, 1 goal, 1 assist, 7.04) have fit in with our club culture and the existing players so far. We agree that they were good moves, and we congratulate each other enthusiastically while drinking terrible coffee Craig bought us from a petrol station. Something about the flat taste of powdered coffee in a paper cup is quite sobering, making me realise that conceding 19 in 13 games maybe isn’t actually that good from our new keeper, but Pontus is still working hard.

Dahlberg. Things can only get better. See? In this picture taken at training he can save two shots with one hand at the same time.

In the last episode, I thought all of the January transfer window was sewn up and reported on. But one more thing did occur. The curious case of Domagoj Bradaric. The Dom-inator is one of those off players who isn’t quite first choice in his position (that’s Borna Sosa’s gig at left-back), but is too good to be the casual understudy. As such, Bradaric’s patience around first team football was wearing thin and he wanted to move on. Given his quality, I don’t want to lose him permanently.

The Dom-inator in action for Lille.

So off Domagoj popped, to Eibar in Spain on loan til the end of the season. I didn’t want this to happen, but it was either that or he was definitely pushing for a permanent transfer request.

This left me in a pickle. The final hours of the transfer window closing in and only one official left-back in the squad.

So I had to do it. In came another Bordeaux old boy, cast aside by Marcelo Bielsa and available on a short-term loan. Ideal.

Welcome to Lille, Olivier “Backup” Boscagli.

Olivier Boscagli, 27, was always reliable for me in Bordeaux (as understudy to then club captain Loris Benito), and will capably play backup to Sosa for the rest of the campaign here. I have built in a £1.8million buy clause, so if Bradaric decides he would like to continue playing his football away from the club permanently, Olly may be a good replacement option.

Talking about managerial icon Bielsa, how was that all going?

Oh no, the timing!
Oops!

A 6-2 win from my rampant Lille side over Bielsa’s Bordeaux IN Bordeaux, was enough for our old pal Joe DaGrosa to dispense of the grumpy tactician. We wish him well, wherever he goes next. Bordeaux have since mounted a small recovery and sit in 11th, under the watchful eye of new (and ex-Guingamp) boss, Nicolas Usaï.

In terms of Ligue Un form, man this division is unforgiving.

We currently sit 3rd, equal on points with 2nd-placed Lyon, only 6 points behind the ever-present league leaders PSG, and a whopping 14 points ahead of Marseille in 4th, with only 8 league games left to play. It’s been a fantastic year.

That being said, it’s hard to tell how much more you can give, before realising that in France, “insurmountable” isn’t a challenge, it’s a resignation of defeat.

What more can you do?! (writer’s note – well not losing 1-0 to Strasbourg would be a start…)
All things considered, I’m happy with that.

So yes, we were chucked out of the Coupe de France at the 9th round stage, and yes, none of us are happy about it; but we were drawn against PSG, and it was a very narrow 3-2 defeat, where I actually think we played the better football.

In the UEFA Europa Conference League (writer’s note – we are all still getting used to that!) we endured a real scare after losing 2-1 in Russia to Ural, but a 1-0 home win ensured we went through to the Quarter Final on away goals. FC Utrecht next. A team in Holland you may remember I almost joined once, a good couple of years ago now.

The UEFA Europa Conference League Quarter Final draw in full. We might have a chance at a trophy here! (writer’s note – well not now you’ve mentioned it, idiot.)

So how are our beloved Lille lads performing, outside of the obvious strong results?

The squad.

Particular mention has to go to JLG9, for his incredible 25 (22 in the league) goals so far this season. “The next Batistuta” is the top scorer in Ligue Un so far, and yes, that means he’s beating a certain Kylian Mbappe.

Slick.

Another mention has to go to Yusuf Yazici. His 10 goals and 13 assists have made him by far our most creative force in the side.

Yazici does it again!

I’ve always used numerous spreadsheets to analyse my team’s attributes and statistics, as well as those available in the transfer market. I do also love a radar chart.

That being said, a brilliant recent post by Oliver Jensen, inspired me to spruce up my player comparison sheets, and get them in use again.

Who are our best-performing defensive midfield options?
How do our strikers compare?

I may write a wider piece on this at a later date, but I think there’s been a lot of analysis recently, and I’ll stick to the narrative for the time being. (writer’s note – watch him change his mind in two paragraph’s time, just wait and see!)

In the meantime, there’s 8 league games left and at least one more double-header in the Europa Conference League to contend with.

The next time we meet, will it be to discuss delirium or disappointment?

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

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