25 May ~ The sight of manager Rudi Garcia dancing like a teenager was the only surprise on a day that otherwise went according to plan. On Sunday, LOSC fans turned out in their thousands to celebrate the club’s historic league and cup double, lining Boulevard de la Liberté as the open-top bus made its way to Champ de Mars at the west end of Lille city centre. LOSC – Lille Olympique Sporting Club, as the football team is known – clinched the Ligue 1 title last Saturday thanks to a 2-2 draw at Paris Saint-Germain. Seven days earlier a 90th-minute Ludovic Obraniak free-kick was enough to defeat the same opponents at Stade de France in the French Cup final. The last time the club had won a trophy was the French Cup in 1955.
The Dogues (mastiffs) are popular winners because they play the most entertaining football in France. In 37 league games they have scored 65 goals, making them the division’s highest scorers. With a game to go, they have the second-best defensive record, too. Since the start of December, they’ve headed the table on all but one weekend.
In Eden Hazard, they have the best player in the country. On Sunday afternoon, after a quick shower and change, he and Garcia made their way to Paris for France’s annual end-of-season football awards ceremony. Garcia walked off with the Manager of the Year prize. Hazard, only 20, collected the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award to go with the Young Player trophy he’s picked up for the past two seasons.
Doubtless there’ll be more accolades in the future, although whether the much-coveted Belgium winger will win them at LOSC is open to question. “I want to play for a big club one day, but LOSC are growing, little by little,” he told the cameras. “Will I be here for another one, two or three years? I don’t know.”
With or without Hazard, LOSC will need to deepen their squad over the summer. The starting XI should remain pretty familiar – sporting director Frederic Paquet spent the spring tying several key players to long-term contracts – but the one stroke of luck the newly crowned champions have had is the avoidance of serious injuries. In winning the league, Garcia used only 22 players, a Ligue 1 low. Just 14 players have started more than five games. Those are remarkable figures considering LOSC have played 55 fixtures in all competitions.
This historic campaign ends at home to Rennes on Sunday night. Fans eager to see the club clinch the league sold out Stade Metropole weeks ago. With the title already in the bag, a third consecutive Saturday night of partying is on the cards. James Eastham