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FM20 Stories The European Journeyman

Journeyman – 26 – Lille – You’re not the only one

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

You’re not the only one with mixed emotions. You’re not the only ship adrift on this ocean.

I am outside the apartment, with my back leaned up against the side of the car. It’s approaching midnight and I’m exhausted. I take a deep breath in, then slowly exhale my cigarette smoke into the darkened Lille sky, watching as the silvery clouds dissipate.

It’s been quite a journey so far.

I swore I’d give these things up, but I also swore I would never destroy water bottles in the technical area like Arsène Wenger, when we fail to convert almost 30 chances in a match.

I have headphones in. I am listening to Mick Jagger’s dulcet tones at half volume. I can still hear the hum of passing traffic as I stub out my cigarette with a precisely swivelled toe. I am enjoying the underrated Stones classic ‘Mixed Emotions.’ It’s June 2026, and Mick, the sentiment is as true for me now as it was for you in 1989, pal.

The 2025/2026 campaign is over, and it’s time for a review. When we last spoke, we were alive and kicking in the Coup de France, the UEFA Champions League and Ligue Un. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Before we do, I had said we would have a closer look at our tactical DNA in this episode. I lied, but only because so much has happened that I couldn’t possibly bring you that much excitement in one dose. (writer’s note – he means keep you interested across more than 5 or 6 paragraphs).

It’s perhaps something to look forward to another time I guess. No?

Coup de France

After the incredible late win over PSG in the Quarter Finals, we were up against a tough Marseille side in the Semis. A 106th minute extra time goal by JLG9 saw us narrowly through 1-0.

So who would we face in the final? It was Angers. A team we regularly and routinely dispatch of. Angers perpetually hover in or around 10th in the league table.

So did we dominate possession against them? Yep.

Did we have 27 attempts on goal vs their 8? Yep.

Did we complete almost 100 more passes than them to control the entire pitch? Yep.

Did we lose 1-0 and not win a trophy? Yep.

FFS. If I see another looping wayward header from a lofted cross, despite all my instructions to do otherwise, I’ll scream. It was definitely one of those days.

Awful.

A desperate disappointment to fall at the last hurdle, to lose in the final. But how would the other competitions go?

UEFA Champions League

The understatement of the year could be that I was doubtful about our chances in the 1st Knockout Round when we drew Barcelona, after a brilliant turnaround in the group stage that saw off Inter.

The first leg approached and I told the boys to go out and enjoy it. They deserved to be playing on this stage, and anything could happen. On the inside, I wasn’t feeling as confident as my words suggested. But then…

Wow!

Another JLG9 goal at a crucial moment gave us a fantastic advantage to take to the Nou Camp. What was considered an impossible dream could now be a reality!

Nope, it couldn’t.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Allegri’s Blaugrana were big favourites even with the one goal deficit, and they proved to be too strong for us on their patch, as we tumbled out of the Champions League, but with our heads held high.

Barcelona went on to be eventual winners, beating Paris Saint-Germain (haha) in the final at the Santiago Bernabéu. Goals from Fabinho and Gabriel Jesus drove them to glory, in a stadium where Barcelona always love a victory.

So that’s two competitions out the window, leaving us with just the league.

Ligue Un

At our last update, we had played 25 matches in the league, and were yet to lose. We had created a massive gulf of points between ourselves and 3rd, but PSG were hot on our heels in 2nd.

Effectively it all came down to three key matches. I mirrored PSG’s slip up defeat at Nimes by losing to Marseille, so all that really mattered were the results of three crucial games; namely against Monaco, against PSG in what was dubbed the title decider on gameday 37, and on the final day against Lyon.

The Monaco game gave me waves of anxiety. We were the dominant force throughout and just could not break down their wall of a defence. Monaco have been terrible this season, but try as we might, nothing would go in.

That was until one of my Argentine hitmen stepped up to save the day, twice within a minute.

Annnnnnd breathe.

At 89:57, just before Enzo Romano smashed the ball home, a quick glance at the league table gave me reason to panic. They do say it’s always darkest before the dawn, however, and Romano’s quick-fire double right at the death, was one of the moments of the season.

What a breathtaking title race.

Next up, the ultimate showdown against PSG.

If we could get a result against our rivals, it would go to the final day with us in pole position. If they beat us, barring a 34 goal swing in the last match, PSG would be champions. Again.

It was do or die.

Who says French football is a one-horse race?

So how was PSG’s home record this season going into this must-win game?

F***.

The big day was here. My rousing speech completed. Assistant manager Craig Shakespeare on emergency oxygen pretty much guaranteed.

Seven minutes in, and something incredible happened.

J. L. G. 9.

I fall to my knees on the touchline. It’s the 8th minute and I can barely breathe. I can’t believe we are 1-0 up in Paris. I panic as I think of the famous story where David Narey put Scotland 1-0 up early against Brazil in 1978, only serving to anger them, the Brazilians subsequently smashing four goals in to make it 4-1.

We were holding on for dear life as the second half tumbled on.

In the final minutes, the moment came where my heart wasn’t just in my mouth, it felt like it had left my body completely.

PSG’s midfield orchestrator, Spaniard Miguel Baeza, caught one of the sweetest volleys I’ve ever seen in a football match, from just outside the box. It felt like slow motion as it whistled past Pontus Dahlberg’s left-hand post by a matter of inches. Could this be it? 88 minutes played and I’ve aged considerably since kick off.

Luckily there was just too much spin on Baeza’s piledriver, and the ball flew wide.

The travelling Lille fans let out a collective sigh, and many hug each other in the stands. This is football at its breathtaking finest.

Despite being under extreme pressure all game, we made it!

Our players collapse on the pitch as the final whistle blows. It’s over.

In a nice touch, recently departed Dalian Yifang defender Christian Luyindama has tears in his eyes in the stands, as he applauds the boys enthusiastically. He is taking in the game sat alongside chairman Gérard Lopez and the injured Thiago Maia. I forgot to tell you that our 32-year old captain of six years moved to China for £9.5million in the last few weeks. It was an out of the blue transfer that made sense for both parties.

To spare you from any further suspense, a Fausto Vera wonderstrike from 30 yards sealed a 1-0 win against Lyon on the final day to spark the biggest celebrations I’ve seen in my career so far.

Lille are crowned Ligue Un champions to put a halt to PSG’s EIGHT titles in a row. Champions of France for the first time since 2010/11.

Champions!
What a performance. Only one single league loss all season, and a massive 99 points.

What an absolutely exhilirating season I will aim to summarise for you, with the help of some graphics.

Here’s the Lille boys that made this season happen.

I have to mention the departed captain Luyindama, £73m man Iván Gómez and probable Manchester United return loanee Hannibal Mejbri, for their contribution.
Click for detail.
The squad after the final day, before any further departures or new arrivals.

So what of next season? Mr Lopez very kindly doubled my salary and renewed my deal until 2029 relatively recently and things are looking rosy. In terms of the playing staff, I don’t think sweeping changes are required.

Promising right back Lucien Ayuk, wonderkids Rachid Santiago and Uriel Vázquez, aggressive young midfielders Kenin Dzafic and Augusto Caneca and solid striker Tomás Badaloni all return soon from loan any day now, and I’ve spent a little bit on a long term target, a solid defensive midfielder from relegated Amiens.

Alex Blin, 29, Amiens SC, £5million.

I’ve also arranged to bring in a Brazilian flair player to complement our attacking options. With Hannibal Mejbri unlikely to renew his loan spell with us this season, I need an exciting player in that role, and I think I’ve found one. Silvinho arrives on the 1st of July.

Silvinho, 23, Vasco da Gama, £8.5million.

I know the goal in this journeyman is to win a top league and Champions League double and I really think I’ve got a great chance of delivering that here.

I’ve now been in Lille longer than in any other job, I’m really settled and I don’t plan on going anywhe…

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

3 replies on “Journeyman – 26 – Lille – You’re not the only one”

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