Champions Lille reinforce for new season

Reuters

Fri, 29 Jul 03:59:00 2011

Lille stunned French football with last season's surprise league and cup double but they have shed their "modest" tag after a string of recent signings which make them well-equipped for further success this term.

Ivory Coast forward Gervinho, one of their most consistent performers last season, has left for Arsenal and Yohan Cabaye for Newcastle United but Lille's ability to cling onto highly-rated Belgian winger Eden Hazard is probably more crucial to their hopes in the coming months.

Dimitri Payet has arrived from St Etienne to replace Gervinho and last term's Ligue 1 top scorer Moussa Sow will be aiming to show he is not just the one-season wonder some pundits expect.

Defender Laurent Bonnart, midfielder Benoit Pedretti, defender David Rozehnal and reserve keeper Vincent Enyeama are also among the new faces on board ahead of the first match of the league campaign at Nancy on Saturday Aug. 6.

Wednesday's 5-4 Champions Trophy defeat by Olympique Marseille after Lille were 3-1 up with five minutes to play has done little to dim optimism in north-east France.

"The new recruits are feeling good, there is good humour and the culture of hard work is as important as ever," coach Rudi Garcia told reporters.

"I even feel that the new players were a bit surprised by the way the group interacts. They already have many friends. We feel we can find the continuity of last season, the euphoria at least. I think a determined mindset is an important element, it was one of the keys to our success last year."

The signings will help Lille cope with the pressures of Champions League football as well as the defence of their title and news they can stay at their small home ground for European games is a boost ahead of the opening of their new stadium next year.

PSG INVEST

Paris St Germain could rival Lille having been bought by Qatari investors and having recruited former AC and Inter Milan coach Leonardo as sporting director.

It will take time for the under-achieving capital club to spend their newfound wealth but the early purchase of AS Roma and France playmaker Jeremy Menez is a bold statement of intent.

Marseille, who won the 2010 title, managed to keep coach Didier Deschamps but the likes of Gabriel Heinze have departed and quality replacements have been hard to find with Girondins Bordeaux and France midfielder Alou Diarra their standout signing.

"I am satisfied in terms of the pre-season work done and the attitude. Even if everything is not yet perfect, the players are ready and willing," Deschamps said.

The once mighty superpower of French soccer, Olympique Lyon, have also been relatively quiet in the transfer market with new coach Remi Garde already boasting a good side on paper who failed to show their potential on the field last season under the departed Claude Puel.

No team outside the big four is expected to challenge at the top with Stade Rennes' early form last term ebbing away through the campaign.

Ambitious Evian have made the most eye-catching signing of the promoted clubs, bringing France striker Sidney Govou back to Ligue 1, a division still reeling from Monaco's shock relegation last season.

 

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