When in doubt, buy Lille

One French club recently seems to have caught a number of football geeks’ (myself included) attention – LOSC Lille. As well as being included in my comprehensive review of the 2010-11 season, Lille has become a bit of a watchword for the well-run, well-managed club over the last 5 years or so. It was watching Stoke v Newcastle tonight, and the way in which Yohan Cabaye seemed to just stroll through the 90 minutes (at a place which is notoriously difficult to play), that it struck me that to “buy Lille” would be a pretty good mantra for Premier League teams (and indeed any in more exotic locations) to follow.

Lille’s capacity to produce quality players has been particularly exemplified in the three players who have left the club in the summer of 2011 and have breezed into new clubs without so much as a jot of worry or trepidation (perhaps bar Gervinho’s opening day red card).

Firstly, the aforementioned Cabaye, on not only tonight’s evidence but on Newcastle’s amazing early-season form and their miserly defence has quite clearly been a revelation. He forms a robust midfield partnership with one of my favourite Premier League players, the effervescent and oft-yellow-carded Chiek Tiote, and just seems to be one of those players who does the job he is meant to do on the pitch with ease. Cabaye is clearly in as an enforcer and as a protector of the back four (which could, until this season, tend to be rather fragile) – it is a task he performs wonderfully well – but more than that he appears to take on a Scott-Parker-esque role, making the little passes that count in the middle of the park and keeping the play moving where appropriate. He also, on the evidence presented on Sky Sports this evening, is not afraid of tracking back deep into his own penalty box (to the point he got in Tim Krul’s way a bit on one particular occasion). Should particularly both he and Tiote stay fit (though Danny Guthrie was perfectly disciplined playing alongside him tonight) and Newcastle keep their defensive form, I expect Newcastle to at least finish in the top 8 of the table.

The second wandering chap from the north-east of France is the aforementioned Gervinho. Although I thought during August that the last player Arsene Wenger needed was a fragile yet gifted winger with a tendency for interesting hair, I have been proven wrong, to a point. Gervinho at the moment, other than the ridiculously-on-form Robin Van Persie, seems to be the man who can make things happen for Arsenal in attack. One hopes he can stay fit, particularly when RVP’s inevitable injury lay-off rears its head (I know, he’s been fit for the whole calendar year, but as sure as Christmas is on 25 December, RVP will get injured). Anyway, Gervinho has clearly contributed markedly for Arsenal, and long may that continue.

Thirdly, and finally (for now), Adil Rami deserves more than a mention. A young man who presumably for well-founded astrological reasons did not get into the French World Cup squad, since Laurent Blanc came in as national manager his career trajectory has gone steadily in an upwards direction. Forming a sturdy partnership internationally with the also astrologically-ignored Philippe Mexes, Rami has turned heads enough to join Valencia. And lo, Valencia are currently in their usual-ish position of 4th in La Liga (assuming their local rivals Levante start to slip down the table that should improve), and it would appear that Rami is taking to life in La Liga with consummate ease, even scoring a couple of goals along the way.

As for the future, it would appear there could be a couple more Lille players playing at the top level of European football by this time next year. Firstly, Eden Hazard is slowly becoming the worst kept secret in European football, and is surely far too classy a player to not catch the financial attention of the big clubs in England or Spain. He has been linked with predominantly English clubs thus far, including Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. I’d like to see him join Arsenal as his link-up with Jack Wilshere when he returns to fitness would be an absolute joy to watch – he is of course more likely to join either of the blue oligarchical behemoths.

Other than Hazard, there is talent in spades at Lille. Although Rio Mavuba is the captain and unlikely to leave at the drop of the hat, I’m sure the right kind of offer would turn his head. At 27 he should be at the peak of his form, and provide a similar if not identical service to a hypothetical new club to that which Cabaye provides for Newcastle. Moussa Sow meanwhile seems a reliable striker, while right-back Mathieu Debuchy has just made his French debut.

In all, it would seem that if a side buys Lille, it buys into a player which has been brought up in the right manner, playing football in a side which is provincial yet in an area with a huge fanbase. Andy Brassell often says that French football is a great breeding ground for a player who wishes to move to the top-end of English football due to the physicality of the French game – it would seem that playing for Lille only strengthens that ability to adapt.

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