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FM20 Stories The European Journeyman

Journeyman – 24 – Lille – Walking on sunshine

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

…and don’t it feel good!?

With the excitement of the UEFA Europa Conference League win behind us, Charli XCX waved off on a plane back to England and the dust settled on the 24/25 season; it was time to roll our sleeves up and look ahead to the 2025/26 campaign. It will be Lille’s first venture back into the Champions League since I’ve become manager. Would the European campaign be memorable? Domestically, could we go one step further and finally knock PSG off of their perch?

The financial gulf is beyond a joke. I finished 2nd in Ligue Un, and my sponsorship income is 7.3% of PSG’s. 7.3%!

With a financial chasm of nearly £250million a year in sponsorship revenue difference alone, the gap between PSG and the rest of us has never been more evident.

The only way for us to get any closer to them than we did last year (we were second by 9 points) is not to slip up, ever. We must hope that PSG do (slip up) somewhere, and we perform admirably head to head. That’s forgetting how Lyon, Marseille and Monaco feel about fighting for second or third!

Let’s have a look at summer 2025 transfer business. We may not have the same clout as our rivals in Paris when the cheque book comes out, but we did have a bit of cash to spend, so what happened?

Firstly, let’s look at transfers away from the Stade Pierre Mauroy.

Christoph Baumgartner, 26, sold to Benevento, £5million.

Playing only 5 times in total (1 start), the Austrian attacking midfielder was always going to be a backup option for us, third in line for that number 10 spot after Yusuf Yazici and Hannibal Mejri. Had I thought that he was going to be required on so few occassions, I would not have brought him to Lille. Still, £5million for a player we didn’t need, who cost us £2.4million just twelve months earlier? I’ll take it.

Abdelhamid Aïssaoui, 20, sold to Rochdale, £11million.

Despite Aïssaoui’s clear potential, the fact is we do not play with wingers. Although it looks like he will become a fairly good player, he can’t really play anywhere in our 4-3-3. To get £11million from Championship side Rochdale was quite a fee to rake in for a player who came through the youth system and who’s only competitive football came in the form of two loan spells away from the club. Yes, Abdelhamid may go on to become a star elsewhere, but he would not have fitted in with how we like to play (and I have no idea how to pronounce his surname), so it was better to let him go permanently than delay his career development.

Based on the advice of legendary Caen manager FM Heathen I loaned out some fringe players for more than £800,000 a month in income.

Dzafic and Santiago have bright futures ahead of them here in Lille, but could benefit from playing more often. Badaloni had a superb season with Rangers last year, but would bring my non-EU contingent over the registration limit. Brossard looks like a promsing attacker and Caneca needs first team football, after the now 22-year old hasn’t yet broke through at either Bordeaux or Lille where I have managed him.

Rachid Santiago, 19, loaned out to Rennes for a fee of £1.5million for one season. He has a very bright future.

We brought in just five players. One of which won’t arrive til January and creates a non-EU registration slot dilemma, but that’s future Adam’s problem.

Nehuén Pérez, 25, signed from Anderlecht, £14million.

In order to let Santiago away from the club again for more regular football at this crucial stage of his development, I needed a fourth centre back for the squad. The well travelled Pérez will hopefully find a more stable home here than he has done previously, as I went big, spending £14million on the 25-year old.

Since turning 20, just five years ago, Pérez has featured for Atlético Madrid in Spain, Köln and Freiburg in Germany and then Anderlecht in Belgium, before joining me here in France. Something of a journeyman himself, I hope he settles down into a my first choice backline, alongside our long-serving captain, Christian Luyindama.

Bilal Krieger, 18, signed from Sochaux, £3.1million.

I had my eye on Krieger for the best part of a year, watching his development at under-performing Sochaux. A versatile central midfielder, the 19-year old has great balance, fitness and stamina, coupled with a brave and determined mentality, great vision and decision-making. I had previously enquired about Krieger’s availability last season and was quoted in excess of £30million. When Sochaux were confirmed as relegated from Ligue Un, I swooped very quickly to capture him for his active relegation release clause of £3.1million. A shrewd investment who I think has lots to give, as he improves towards his 5-star potential.

Patrice Mallet, 17, signed from Caen, £2.5million.

I am assured that 17-year old Patrice is no relation to Timmy Mallett. The lack of an extra ‘t’ at the end of his name is apparently the proof but I have my doubts.

The young midfielder has great technique, workrate and lightning-quick acceleration. Couple those with some all-round promising attributes and the fact that he has three years of development to experience before I’d consider him for the first team; I think that Patrice was a handy signing for just £2.5million. High potential (5 stars), low risk (£2.5m).

Timmy Mallet(t).
Lucien Ayuk, 19, signed from Montpellier, £3million.

19-year old right back Lucien Ayuk is a signing I am excited about. Although the young right-back has some work to do on the technical side of his game, he is already a decent tackler, marker and crosser of the ball. It’s the rest of his game where he looks ready to slot into the first time almost instantly. Mentally and physically incredible, we could have the next Lilian Thuram or Willy Sagnol on our hands. Part of the bargain deal of capturing Lucien’s signature for just £3m was to loan him back to Montpellier, now in L2, for the season to play first team football. That suits us, just fine.

Uriel Vázquez, 19, signing from Independiente in January 2026, £7million.

Last, but certainly not least is the future-dated signing of Argentinian midfield phenomenon Uriel Vázquez. Already capped at u20 level and chased by Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and Juventus among others, I was delighted when Uriel decided to swap his homeland to join my Argentine contingent here in Lille, for just £7million.

Looking at his incredible tackling, marking, teamwork, vision, workrate, determination, bravery, agility and stamina, but lack of height; if I didn’t know better I’d say this was the reincarnation of Javier Mascherano.

The only challenge this brings me is that my four non-EU slots for Ligue Un registration are already filled by my two star midfielders Fausto Vera and Iván Gómez, and wonderkid striking duo JLG9 and Enzo Romano. Does this mean that Vázquez will need to be loaned out until one of the other four move on? I think it has to.

Despite that complication, I couldn’t pass up the chance to sign one of the most promising looking young defensive players I’ve seen in a long time.

A future Lille and Argentina superstar? A genuine photograph.
The settled 2025 squad, ready for the season ahead.

It’s October 2025 and we are a wee bit into the campaign. The Coupe de France hasn’t kicked off yet (and won’t until the new year), so we are fighting on two fronts at the moment, Ligue Un and the UEFA Champions League.

First up. Who was in our Champions League group as we return to the hottest stage in club football?

Liverpool, Inter and Hoffenheim. THIS will be a challenge.

We draw Hoffenheim (currently 1st in the Bundesliga under the leadership of Mauricio Pochettino), Inter Milan (currently 1st in Serie A and managed by Diego Simeone) and Liverpool (Champions League winners in 19, 21, 22 and 2023. Currently 1st in the Premier League, still under Klopp).

Thanks fate, for dealing us such a kind card. (writer’s note – Guys, I think that’s sarcasm he’s going for there.)

I motivate the boys before the first game against Inter, over in Milan by playing a selection of Bob Dylan songs and performing star jumps. I have a look at the scout report ahead of the big game. The Italians usually have older squads, maybe we can surprise them with our youthful pace and aggression?

Oh no. They have two of the best young players I’ve ever seen on the flanks. Incredible.

I take a deep breath and walk out at the Giuseppe Meazza, praying that if we lost, it would only be by one goal, and the boys could take positives from it.

3-0. Not the end of the world, but not a great start.

The final whistle blows and our 3-0 opening defeat is confirmed. The performance didn’t merit the three-goal deficit, but we were just taken apart on the break too many times, with Justin Kluivert the main man bagging a brace.

We get back to the hotel to sleep off the negative result, fit to face another day. Before we do though, Captain Christian Luyindama cheers the guys up by organising darts, snooker, burgers and pints of beer for those that drink. I let them off with it, it’s been a tough day.

Eek. To be fair I am only responsible for loss number 18, not the 17 before it.
Motivators.

The second Champions League match of the campaign is at home to Liverpool. Again, another tough 90 minutes with some decent performances, but nothing to show for it, other than an Enzo Romano consolation goal.

A tough, but expected result. Midfield duo Maia and Gómez played blinders, but it just wasn’t enough.

The third group match was again at home, this time against the Germans in our group, who had more than one quality-looking player in their ranks. None more so than striking phenomenon Andrew Baur.

Frighteningly good.

Incredibly, we completely outplay Poch’s Hoffenheim, and we come away straightforward 2-0 winners, with goals from Robert Marin and Enzo Romano.

Easy!

After the thumping defeats in the opening two games I really feared the worst; but after the Hoffenheim win, things aren’t as bad as they seemed.

Yep, the board’s expectations are unfair, but I’m proud of our performance so far.

That leaves us with the league. How was Ligue Un going this year so far, 10 games in?

Wait a minute…10 wins from 10!

We are smashing it! 10 wins in our first 10 games means that our start to the season could not have been any better. Surely we must be ahead of PSG with a 100% record at this stage of the season?

Yes! We are!

Incredibly we are top of Ligue Un, pigs CAN fly!

PSG have slipped up just once, when they drew 0-0 away at St Etienne. So there is only two points between us, but I am 11 points clear of Lyon in third. We have made such an incredible start to the season, surely we can’t throw this good start away and we will at least finish second again this year.

As long as nothing horrendous happens to our compact and hard-working squad.

Nobody panic!

So captain Luyindama is out for 3 months with torn knee ligaments. This I did not need. If you look at the bottom of the snapshot, you’ll notice that talismanic striker JLG9 is also out for over a month, while key tactical pivot, deep lying playmaker Thiago Maia cannot add to his 242 league appearances for Lille, until he recovers from his twisted ankle.

Could this be our first rocky patch this season? Some key injuries will be a real test for our small squad, but we are all pulling in the same direction, and who knows, maybe anything is possible? I am excited to find out!

If fictional poor role model Barbie says it, then it must be true.*

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

*this is what happens when you Google “anything is possible” for image ideas and end up with Barbie. Listen, it was the best of a bad bunch, it was either this or a Will Young CD single cover, give me peace.

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