Lille rebuild: Tim Weah could lead Paulo Fonseca’s Ligue 1 side with Sven Botman gone, Jonathan David in limbo

Lille OSC are rebuilding this summer after an underwhelming 2021 title defense which saw them finish in midtable last season. Christophe Galtier and Mike Maignan’s departures in the aftermath of that fourth Ligue 1 success hit Les Dogues hard and Jocelyn Gourvennec paid the price for failing to fill the French tactician’s boots with Paulo Fonseca now set to replace him at the helm.

The 21-22 campaign was not a total loss at Stade Pierre Mauroy as LOSC reach the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League after an impressive late rally in their group. However, finishing 10th out of 20 teams in Le Championnat and being dumped out of the Coupe de France by bitter northern rivals RC Lens was not part of the plan and the club is now in the midst of a major overhaul.

Looking at their summer business so far, Lille will certainly be a different team  than they were last year with Sven Botman, Zeki Celik, Burak Yilmaz, Xeka and Domagoj Bradaric moving on with Mohamed Bayo, Remy Cabella, Jonas Martin and Akim Zedadka all coming in.

Renato Sanches is likely to be the next player out the door with Paris Saint-Germain keen, but Jonathan David and Timothy Weah are yet to move with Bayern Munich the latest European giant linked with the Canada international, and Valencia CF recently mentioned regarding the USMNT star.

Looking at the signings, Cabella, Martin and Zedadka have all been opportunistic moves which reflect the club’s strained financial situation despite their Champions League run and an improvement in the domestic financial situation. The first two are vastly experienced while the latter’s contract with Clermont Foot 63 expired after his international breakthrough with Algeria.

As for the outgoings, it was a question of time before Botman moved on and the Dutch defender has since joined Newcastle United while Turkish pair Celik and Yilmaz had arguably given all they could to the cause and Xeka departs after five solid years in the Nord. One of David or Weah could still move on, but Olivier Letang is unlikely to let both go at the same time.

Overseeing this latest LOSC rebuild is Fonseca which is a fascinating appointment given that he was close to joining Tottenham Hotspur last season after his time with AS Roma ended, only for that move to fall through. Newcastle and Aston Villa were also touted as destinations during last season, but it was Les Dogues who secured the Mozambique-born Portuguese boss’ signature.

The 49-year-old started his career in Portugal, eventually enjoying Taca de Portugal success with SC Braga before moving on to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine where he maintained the Miners’ domestic dominance before trying his luck in Italy. Fonseca enjoyed a a respectable fifth placed Serie A finish in his debut season in Rome, and good UEFA Europa League run to the semifinals the next season, but that was as good as it got. And after two years he was out the door.

Now, having signed a two-year deal with Lille, his task is to get them back into Europe this campaign and to get them back into regular continental contention as Merlyn Partners continue to improve the club’s financial position after Gerard Lopez left it in a perilous state.

“I am aware that having been chosen to join this great French club, with its rich history and impressive track record, also brings great responsibility for me,” said the ex-FC Porto man. “I am extremely motivated and determined to ensure that together, collectively, we will achieve the objectives set and take the club and our squad to the highest level. I thank LOSC’s leaders for their confidence.”

For this, Fonseca appears likely to rely heavily upon experience with Cabella and Martin both arriving at 32 years of age. Add those two to 38-year-old captain Jose Fonte and 31-year-old vice-captain Benjamin Andre and it is a solid core to rely upon while Weah, Edon Zhegrova, Gabriel Gudmundssen and Amadou Onana are all part of a young generation of talent within LOSC’s ranks.

Although it is not impossible that David stays this summer, the odds still favor a move away at this point with 15 goals last term but just three for the club so far in 2022, perhaps part of the reason that there is less of a rush for his signature compared with the winter transfer window.

Arguably not at the same level as AS Monaco, Olympique de Marseille, Olympique Lyonnais, OGC Nice, and Stade Rennais on paper just yet, the immediate goal will be to close the gap on that band of teams. Lens and RC Strasbourg Alsace who were also close to Europe last season and none of the three will have continental distractions which should work in their favor.

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