Champions League

Lille enjoy fruits of Campos labour on return to Europe's top table

2019-10-01 07:29
Renato Sanches
Renato Sanches (Getty Images)

Paris - While Frank Lampard's Chelsea grapple with a ban on signing new players, Wednesday's Champions League rivals Lille have returned to Europe's top table this season in large part thanks to the work of a Portuguese transfer guru.

Luis Campos is a friend of former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho who has been in charge of recruitment at the French outfit since 2017 and helped build a team, led by Nicolas Pepe, that finished second in Ligue 1 last season.

That allowed Lille to qualify for the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2012, although they head into the game at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy seeking to bounce back after a 3-0 defeat at Ajax a fortnight ago.

However, just being here at all is a cause for celebration for a club who were in disarray 18 months ago, having only just avoided relegation following Marcelo Bielsa's short-lived spell as coach.

Christophe Galtier, the ex-Saint-Etienne boss and one-time Portsmouth assistant manager, has revived their fortunes since then but he could not have done so without Campos.

Like Mourinho, Campos was very young when he gave up on playing and moved into coaching. Unlike his compatriot, Campos did not enjoy great success in the dugout but he ended up joining Mourinho's staff at Real Madrid in 2012.

He then went on to advise Monaco on recruitment and is credited with helping bring the likes of Benjamin Mendy and Thomas Lemar to the principality.

"Luis played a massive part in us winning the title in 2017. We will never take that away from him," Monaco's former Russian vice-president, Vadim Vasilyev, told L'Equipe.

By then, however, Campos had already taken his expertise to Lille, coaxed there by owner Gerard Lopez, although he remains a Monaco resident.

Campos, 55, works as an advisor, running a scouting company called Scoutly which scours the market for potential gems.

Within a few months of Lopez buying Lille, they signed Ivorian forward Nicolas Pepe from Angers for 10 million euros ($10.9 million).

While Pepe's first year was a trying one as "Les Dogues" (The Mastiffs) just avoided relegation, he still scored 13 times before really taking off last season, netting 22 goals and being nominated for France's player of the year award.

Osimhen leads new wave

A transfer to Arsenal for 80 million euros followed, the biggest deal in a summer which also saw Lille sell Portuguese striker Rafael Leao to AC Milan for 35 million euros.

Left-back Youssouf Kone and midfielder Thiago Mendes went to Lyon for a combined fee over 30 million euros, but a new wave of players has come in.

"There have been sales, but the president has also invested a lot, not an insignificant amount, so we remain ambitious," Galtier said at the start of the campaign.

Indeed, Lille broke their transfer record twice in the summer, first for Turkish midfielder Yusuf Yazici from Trabzonspor and then to sign Bayern Munich's Renato Sanches.

The best young player at Euro 2016, Sanches was hardly unknown, but not every Lille signing has such a profile.

Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen signed for Wolfsburg after top-scoring at the 2015 under-17 World Cup but struggled in Germany.

However, his form at Belgian side Charleroi last season persuaded Lille to splash out €15 million on him and Osimhen already has six goals in eight Ligue 1 appearances.

"It is not easy to rebuild every season but we take great pleasure in helping young players emerge and progress," Galtier said.

"The great thing is that Luis Campos anticipates everything, so we are never caught off guard."

The challenge now for Lille is trying to make their success last. They are currently fourth in Ligue 1, but it is not just players they risk losing -- Campos himself has been linked to bigger clubs, including AC Milan.

"My objective is to establish 'LOSC' as one of the leading clubs in France. That is what we should be," Lopez said.

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