This season will certainly be one that will live long in the memory for supporters of LOSC Lille. The 2011/12 Ligue 1 Champions are fully embroiled in an all-encompassing relegation battle that is threatening to demote them to the second division for the first time in eighteen years. One of the most disturbing factors behind their current plight is that it is the off-pitch chaos that has exacerbated the evident footballing issues and may yet hammer the final nail in their top-flight coffin.
During their recent draw with Montpellier at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, hundreds of Lille supporters felt it was time to make their feelings felt by invading the pitch upon the final whistle. Holding their European-chasing counterparts to a 1-1 draw would hardly be seen as a bad result in the context of their season- but anger has been brewing for some time in this region of Northern France and there was a feeling that things had reached boiling point. The moment the final whistle blew, fans behind Benjamin Lecomte’s goal began to stream onto the pitch in numbers and sprinted in the direction of their own players with menace. Thankfully, the club’s stewards ran from all directions to prevent deplorable scenes from deteriorating and fortunately, no players suffered any physical harm.
Friday’s 2-1 defeat at Monaco leaves Lille two points from a survival spot with eight games left to play. It is an ominous position but it epitomises a season that has been shredded in turmoil from the moment Gérard Lopez bought the club last year. Results on the pitch have reflected the rash approach to management from the top.
The renowned Marcelo Bielsa was hired as manager last May but was dismissed in December after winning only 5 of his 19 games in charge, with his signings having failed to make any impression. Bielsa is still contesting his sacking, seeking as much as 18 million euros for wrongful dismissal. His replacement, Christophe Galtier, has strived to bring stability and renewed hope to their precarious predicament, admittedly evident in hard-fought draws against Nantes and Lyon and in a vital narrow victory over fellow strugglers Strasbourg. However, late goals shipped to Angers and Nice have once again underlined Lille’s undeniable fragilities.
Off the pitch, the club’s financial state was not helped by Bielsa’s considerable net spend last summer and is currently deemed so unhealthy that the French footballing authorities have inflicted a transfer embargo- whilst there will unequivocally be further punishment to come from the violent fan protest ignominy.
Captain Ibrahim Amadou expressed his unhappiness at the events after the recent Montpellier game: “The fans reacted as if the Championship was over and we’ve already gone down. There are nine matches left”. Chelsea forward Eden Hazard also conveyed his sadness at his former club’s plight on his Twitter account: “This evening, I’m hurting for my Lille. Remember, stay united and together in the good times just as in the most difficult moments.”
Hazard’s directives are particularly relevant, with a vital home game to be played against fellow relegation strugglers Amiens on 1 April. Les Dogues must do all they possibly can on the pitch to sustain Ligue 1 survival hopes. Matters off the pitch will have to be forgotten- for the moment.
By Hal Walker (@HalWalker)