The Lille transfer window seems to have signed the start of a new cycle, with Paulo Fonseca on the bench and a renewed workforce. What is your assessment of the off-season?
“The subject of the transfer window is a very thorny subject between Lille supporters. Some find it far too skinny given the excellent sales achieved (Botman, Onana, etc.). Other supporters call it good, interesting. I find him especially very intelligent for the season and especially the seasons to come. Keeping David for example, it was not certain at the start of the transfer window, it’s a good thing. Then, for the arrivals, we almost filled all the positions where we needed to strengthen. The sides first with Ismaily, Zedadka and in a sense Diakité. Experienced recruits like Rémy Cabella or Jonas Martin are also smart choices in my opinion. There are of course some disappointments in this transfer window such as the “panic buy” of André Gomes, signed on the last day. I’m still not convinced, but I hope to believe it one day. The big transfer this year is of course Bayo. For the moment, it’s a great disappointment, not physically developed, sometimes too fair with the ball at the foot and especially the extra-sports cause him harm.
Betting on young people, Lille knows how to do it and continues to do so this year. Gomes’ unjustifiable tenure proves it. The recruitment of Virginius too. And there is of course Diakité, who is making a remarkable start to the season. It is important for me this mixture between youth and experience. A good sports project is about the future.“
What does Fonseca’s Lille look like?
“A really fun team to watch. He has a very particular and simple vision of the game at the same time. To play football you have to have the ball. It’s as simple as that really. The ball lifts are worked on, the starting device can be modified along the way. For example, against Marseille, we started the match in a completely new system, a 3-man defense with two pistons on the sides. In our other oppositions this season, the team was in 4-2-3-1 with an offensive animation in perpetual motion. Replacing David on the right is a great thing, I think, when Cabella and Bayo are starters. The replacement of the young Angel Gomes in 8 is also an excellent gamble on his part.
In my opinion, Lille can develop one of the best games in Ligue 1. A fun game to watch, collective and master of the ball. Of course, there are still a lot of adjustments to be made. Such intensive pressing must be done together, with players in excellent physical condition. I also think that recruiting this winter will be essential to end the season well. I have complete confidence in Paulo Fonseca. He knows where he wants to take his team, and in a good way on top of that. I have to be convinced.“
What is the club’s ambition this season? Does Europe seem possible to you?
“The leaders do not publicly state the club’s ambitions. Above all, Olivier Létang wants to see a playful team with real Mastiffs on the field. For Fonseca it’s pretty much the same thing. As long as the proposed game corresponds to his vision, he will be satisfied I think; if the results follow a minimum of course. About Europe, for me, it is more than possible. The workforce allows it, the coach too. Especially if we want to continue to be attractive during transfer window periods, and able to retain certain players. I don’t really believe in the first three places. But the Europa League is frankly attainable for me.“
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LOSC made a very irregular start to the season. How do you explain it?
“The up and down start to the season was predictable for me. We won the matches where we logically had to win. Despite the suitcase inflicted by PSG where I also paradoxically found the team far from bad, I have no huge disappointment. Except of course the home game against Nice, which for once must be won by a large score. To go into more detail, there are various factors that can explain this irregular start to the season. The first and most obvious is Jardim. He cost us a lot of goals. His exit against Montpellier for example is totally shameful. I am very happy with the management of this position by Fonseca, who were quickly able to establish the young Lucas Chevalier.
Then, of course, the transition between a Breton football porridge and a Portuguese football based on ball control cannot be made in a few matches. It’s a long job that the players are doing. And some much better than others. I am thinking of Angel Gomes who is having an excellent start to the season in a completely new position for him. He is the maestro of the team, in my opinion. And some players are in more difficulty, like José Fonte. The Portuguese captain is running out of steam, I think. Our desire to play very high is incompatible with his qualities and I find that a shame given the services he has rendered us.
To end on the reasons for this unstable start to the season, it is of course Rémy Cabella. I never thought I would say that, but my God what a player. He is physically good, always well placed, a ratio of 1.5 assists per game. He developed an incredible connection with David in a very short time. The concern, of course, is injuries. He has some physical glitches that prevent him from playing. The record of the matches he played in the red jersey is 4 assists and 0 defeat. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Unfortunately, he won’t be there this Saturday, and that could handicap us in the game.“
We do not see very clearly on the Lille project since the eviction in December 2020 of Gérard Lopez, who was a shareholder and president at the time. What direction does the club want to take in the coming years?
“Well to be honest, it wasn’t clearly indicated. “We will take stock after five games, then after fifteen games and the ambition comes over the meetings”. These were the words of Olivier Létang at the start of the season. Under Lopez, it was not really the athlete who took over. I don’t think that under Létang this will be more the case. LOSC’s debt is still significant and selling its best players is inevitable. The objective is still Europe, in my opinion. Maybe not this season, but in the years to come.“
What do you think of Bafodé Diakité’s first weeks as a Mastiff?
“At the end of the 2021-2022 season, I had put together a list of players I would like to see at LOSC in August with friends. Bafodé Diakité was one of them. I was certain of his skills and his potential at LOSC. So far, I’m really not disappointed. Very smart in the game, athletic and head on his shoulders. In addition to that, Fonseca uses his versatility well by not hesitating to play in the axis. Defensively, I find him really strong. For his age, he is really reassuring. It can only be positive for the future. It is perhaps offensively that there are some faults. But precisely, it climbs little to compensate for the climbs of Ismaily on the left flank. The defense therefore slides to form a line of 3.“
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How do you see the TFC this season?
“I watched Ligue 2 out of the corner of my eye last year and always found the TFC fun to watch. With their excellent players, I had no doubts about Toulouse’s rise to Ligue 1. Even if the start to the season could have been better, the victory against Reims saved the day a little for me. There are Toulouse players who will do well, I’m sure. With an impressive domination in Ligue 2 last year, I don’t see how the TFC could not manage in this Ligue 1. Afterwards, of course, the season will be special with the four runs and the international break at the end of year. But seen from the outside, it works very well.“
Any predictions for Saturday’s game? And for the final classification of the two clubs?
“I see a disputed match. Both teams want to be players. Despite everything, the LOSC risks taking the advantage. We have to get back to winning ways at home. The last game at home was Nice and frankly, I didn’t recognize my team. Nice did nothing, offered nothing and still won with two penalties in less than five minutes. For this Saturday’s match, I would say 3-1, with a brace from David. A transition game can hurt you. That’s the key for us in this game in my opinion.
Regarding the final ranking of the two teams, I think Toulouse will be the team that will surprise everyone at the end of the year. A bit like what Strasbourg was able to do last year. I don’t know if Toulouse will finish in 6th place, but between 8th and 11th place. For Lille, as I said earlier, we will end up in European places. I can imagine the top three with Paris, Marseille and Monaco. And therefore certainly below Rennes, Lens and Lille. Maybe Lyon, but I have more reluctance. The Lille squad is good. It must allow to finish in these places. To finish lower would be a failure, in my opinion.“