Football Features

Hit or miss? Every player Lille signed to replace a big-money sale

By CJ Smith

Published: 14:14, 11 June 2022

Although never truly being an elite French club, Lille have enjoyed their fair share of success over the years, winning four league titles and six domestic cups.

They were champions as recently as 2020/21 but suffered in their defence, while their last cup came as part of a double back in the 2010/11 season, spearheaded by none other than Belgian wing wizard, Eden Hazard.

But unlike domestic giants Paris Saint-Germain or, back in the day, Marseille, Les Dogues have to accept the fact that their best players will move on, and so, must plan accordingly in the transfer market. 

Hazard, of course, now plies his trade with Real Madrid following an extremely successful seven-year stint in London with Chelsea. Lille, meanwhile, found a capable replacement (more on him later) to keep them around the top-four spots, and the cycle continued.

In 2020, Victor Osimhen left for Napoli after scoring a team-high 13 Ligue 1 goals and was replaced by Canadian Jonathan David with the team somehow only getting better.

Between Osimhen and Hazard is a raft of names that have left Lille chasing fame away from Stade Pierre-Mauroy. That in mind, here is a look at some of the players Lille have signed over the years to replace their departing stars, and whether they were a hit or a miss for the Ligue 1 club.

Sold: Mike Maignan (£15m) | Signed: Ivo Grbic (loan)

Lille appearances: 29

Verdict: Miss

Alright so technically Mike Maignan wasn’t a big money sale, especially in today’s market, but when you lose your title-winning goalkeeper for free almost as soon as the season has ended, that’s pretty big. Lille didn’t panic, of course, and replacing Maignan with Croatian Ivo Grbic.

However, this is one move that hasn’t worked out, and with Grbic between the sticks Lille sat mid-table, having lost seven games and conceded 35 goals. Things were so bad that Grbic was dropped to the bench and Lille kept seven straight clean sheets in Ligue 1 — though they eventually dropped off again with one clean sheet in their final eight games to end 10th.

Sold: Gabriel (£27m) | Signed: Sven Botman (€9m)

Lille appearances: 79

Verdict: Hit

When Lille lost the monumental Gabriel to Arsenal, no one could have suspected that they would be able to replace the Brazilian so simply. Yet that is exactly what they did, plucking Sven Botman from Heerenveen.

There, under the tutelage of the Pai Mei of centre-backs aka José Fonte, Botman hit the ground running and in his first season formed a formidable defensive duo with the veteran Portuguese and was the backbone of Lille’s incredible title tilt.

Botman cost 1/3rd what Lille got for Gabriel and ended up being more successful, helping Lille to win Ligue 1. It’s an outrageous flex to be able to do something like that as a French team not named PSG, but it just speaks to the strength of Lille’s scouting.

Sold: Victor Osimhen (€70m) | Signed: Jonathan David (€30m)

Lille appearances: 96

Verdict: Hit

After one great season in France, Victor Osimhen was off to Serie A in a colossal €70m transfer – a record for an African player. His replacement was another record as JonathanDavid joined from Gent for €30m (a record for a Canadian player).

As ever, Lille didn’t even skip a beat thanks to their excellent scouting. David bagged 13 goals in his debut season as he helped Lille shock PSG and the world to win Ligue 1 for the first time in a decade. In his second season, David bagged 19 goals in 48 games and bettered Osimhen’s best in a Lille shirt (18 goals) while costing less than half what the Nigerian did.

There is no doubt a big money move for him this summer, and while his destination has people interested perhaps they should be more keen to find out who Lille intend to replace him with, because they’re so good at it.

Sold: Rafael Leao (£32m) | Signed: Victor Osimhen (£11m)

Hit or miss? Lille transfer signings made to replace big-money sales

Lille appearances: 38

Verdict: Hit

Victor Osimhen replaced Portuguese star Rafael Leao following the latter’s move to AC Milan. With Leao scoring eight goals in just 16 starts the season prior, it’s safe to say Osimhen had big shoes to fill, but fill them he did, netting 18 times in 38 appearances across all competitions.

Osimhen has all the tools to become a top-class forward in years to come and so it wasn’t even much of a surprise when Napoli came in swinging with a massive €70m bid for the young Nigerian. One season in France is all he needed to show his potential.

Sold: Nicolas Pepe (£72m) | Signed: Timothy Weah (£9m)

Hit or miss? Lille transfer signings made to replace big-money sales

Lille appearances: 75

Verdict: Hit

With Nicolas Pepe making a monumental £72m move to Arsenal in 2019, Lille needed to act fast to get some pace into the wide areas. Their potential solution was United States international, Timothy Weah.

Being the son of George Weah comes with its own set of tough expectations, but with a lot of the future hopes of the UMSNT also hanging on his shoulders, things have been tough for Weah so far having failed to make the grade with PSG and enduring a mediocre loan spell with Scottish champions Celtic.

But after a brutal first season in France, where he played just three times, Weah rebounded and had a tremendous season in 2020/21, helping Lille to win their Ligue 1 title. He struggled last year and took until May to score his first goal of the season, but for helping with a title against the mighty PSG, Timothy Weah can be nothing but a hit.

Sold: Sofiane Boufal £16m | Signed: Anwar El Ghazi (£7m)

Hit or miss? Lille transfer signings made to replace big-money sales

Lille appearances: 44

Verdict: Miss

Having sold Sofiane Boufal to Southampton in the summer of 2016 for around £16m (the buying club’s record purchase at the time), Lille parted with £7m to bring Anwar El Ghazi to the club from Ajax in January 2017.

El Ghazi had netted a respectable 23 goals in 100 games across all competitions for his Dutch employers, including 20 in the Eredivise, but struggled to have the same impact in France, scoring just six goals.

The Netherlands international joined Aston Villa on loan in 2018 and, having helped them achieve promotion to the Premier League, made that move permanent ahead of the 2019/20 season.

Sold: Idrissa Gana Gueye (£8m) | Signed: Ibrahim Amadou (£2m)

Hit or miss? Lille transfer signings made to replace big-money sales

Lille appearances: 102

Verdict: Hit

Idrissa Gana Gueye was another to switch Lille for Villa, although he did so back in back in 2015 when they were a Premier League side already.

Gueye’s replacement was Ibrahim Amadou, a former France youth international who had made waves in the second tier with Nancy.

After starting out in Lille’s youth team, Amadou was quickly moved into the senior set-up and asserted himself as a key cog in Les Dogues‘ side. He was named as club captain by Marcelo Bielsa for the 2017/18 campaign and did enough to earn a move to Spanish side Sevilla in July 2018, although things have admittedly gone downhill since then.

Sold: Divock Origi (£10m)| Signed: Sofiane Boufal (£1m)

Hit or miss? Lille transfer signings made to replace big-money sales

Lille appearances: 51

Verdict: Hit

As mentioned, Boufal was sold to Southampton in 2016, but the Morocco international was himself a replacement for Liverpool-bound forward Divock Origi.

Given the fee Saints paid for Boufal, it goes without saying he was a real hit in northern France, scoring 15 goals in 51 games during his season-and-a-half with Lille and helping the club reach the 2015/16 Coupe de la Ligue final.

Sold: Eden Hazard (£32m) | Signed: Salomon Kalou (free transfer)

Hit or miss? Lille transfer signings made to replace big-money sales

Lille appearances: 80

Verdict: Hit

As Hazard made the short trip across the English Channel to Chelsea, so Champions League winner Salomon Kalou moved in the opposition direction on a free transfer after his contract at Stamford Bridge expired.

Whatever Kalou’s wages were turned out to be great value for money as the Ivorian forward bagged 33 goals in 80 appearances in all competitions (30 in 67 Ligue 1 matches alone) helping Lille to sixth and third-place finishes during his two seasons at the club before moving to Hertha Berlin. He was no Hazard, but a hit nonetheless.

Sold: Mathieu Debuchy (£5m) | Signed: Djibril Sidibe (£2m)

Hit or miss? Lille transfer signings made to replace big-money sales

Lille appearances: 119

Verdict: Hit

Although not necessarily a “big-money” move, Mathieu Debuchy’s switch to Newcastle United left a huge gap in Lille’s team at the right-back position, one the shape of a Ligue 1 title winner with almost 300 games’ worth of experience.

The man charged with filling that void was Djibril Sidibe, who was picked up after helping Troyes to Ligue 1 promotion at the age of just 19.

Sidibe stuck around at Lille for 119 games and impressed enough to earn a move to Monaco in 2016, where he lifted the Ligue 1 title, so that alone makes him a hit.

Sold: Moussa Sow (£10m) | Signed: Nolan Roux (£7m)

Hit or miss? Lille transfer signings made to replace big-money sales

Lille appearances: 138

Verdict: Miss

Moussa Sow scored 26 goals across all competitions during Lille’s 2010/11 double-winning campaign, so when he departed for Fenerbahce midway through the following season, that obviously left a giant goalscoring void in the French side’s attack.

Nolan Roux was the man entrusted with filling the void, signed from Brest on a four-and-a-half-year deal in January 2012. Although he bagged a respectable 37 goals in 138 games during his time with Lille, he only stayed at the club until 2015, when he joined Saint-Etienne, and never quite reached the heights Sow managed.

Sold: Gervinho (£11m) | Signed: Dimitri Payet (£7m)

Hit or miss? Lille transfer signings made to replace big-money sales

Lille appearances: 93

Verdict: Hit

Another of the stars of Lille’s double-winning team, Gervinho, departed in 2011, joining Arsenal for around £10.8m, so further surgery was required to bolster Rudi Garcia’s attack. The solution was to bring in a young maverick playmaker by the name of Dimitri Payet. Those of a West Ham persuasion might just remember him.

Payet immediately set about making his creative exploits felt in the final third and although he only stayed at the club for two seasons, before joining Marseille, the Frenchman managed 19 goals and 31 assists in 95 appearances across all competitions for Lille, earning himself a spot in the Ligue 1 Team of the Season for 2012/13.

Sold: Jean II Makoun (£14m) | Signed: Rio Mavuba (£6m)

Hit or miss? Lille transfer signings made to replace big-money sales

Lille appearances: 370

Verdict: Hit

After spending seven years with Lille, Jean II Makoun went to try his luck at Lyon but effectively set his career on a downward trend and ended up becoming a journeyman, turning out for the likes of Aston Villa, Olympiacos and Rennes over the years.

Still, his position in midfield needed filling and the man Garcia looked to for cover was Rio Mavuba, initially signed on loan from Villarreal. Mavuba impressed so much that Lille made the transfer permanent in the summer of 2008. He then went on to make 370 appearances for the club, lifted the Ligue 1 and Coupe de France double and took on the captain’s armband, all while picking up 13 caps for France.

Mavuba is now retired, joining Bordeaux II as assistant manager, but is still held in the highest regard at Lille as one of the club’s most iconic players.