The winter transfer window has just closed its doors without the LOSC losing key players. On course to qualify for the European Cup, current leader of Ligue 1, Lille is in financial difficulty. Its acquisition by the Luxembourg investment fund Merlyn Partners, recorded in December 2020, bears witness to this. Autopsy of a northern club to be straightened.
Lille changed books in the middle of a pivotal season. The takeover of LOSC by the Merlyn Partners group, formalized on December 18, 2020, is the result of fragile economic health. Exit the owner Gérard Lopez and his management based on player trading. Make way for the former president of Stade Rennais Olivier Létang and his “more classic football club” model.
During his presidency in Lille since January 2017, Gérard Lopez has achieved significant capital gains. In the summer of 2019, he sold Nicolas Pépé, bought 10 million euros in 2017, to Arsenal for 80 M €. In August 2020, Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen, who arrived for € 22.4m a year earlier, was sent to Naples for a check for € 70m (and around € 10m in bonuses).
Heavy financial liabilities
These beautiful capital gains were not enough to balance the accounts of LOSC. The debt of the northern team, long estimated at 123 million euros, would ultimately be around a little less than 200 million euros. Olivier Létang said when he arrived that we will first have to reduce the debt.
Merlyn Partners, a Luxembourg investment fund, is expected to first inject nearly 50 million euros.
The situation is urgent. Without this sale, the Lille club “would probably have been in default of payment” at the beginning of January 2021, explained Olivier Létang. And the new deputy president of LOSC promises that the challenge is “above all sporting”.
However, it will be difficult to continue to be so competitive. The current Ligue 1 runner-up will not be able to avoid the sale of key players in exchange for cash. Because the new leaders are committed to the National Management Control Department (DNCG) to restore the economic balance.
Sell yes, but at what price?
The question then arises of potential buyers of Lille players. Between the forced sales position and the health crisis linked to the coronavirus does not help. It is difficult to imagine transfers equal to those of Nicolas Pépé and Victor Osimhen. After 1.2 billion euros disbursed in winter 2020 by the European Big 5 (England, Germany, Spain, Italy France), the 2021 winter transfer window will have been subject to only € 291 million in spending in the 5 major championships, according to the CIES.
With the games behind closed doors, the LOSC (36,000 spectators on average in 2019-20) is cut off from the ticketing revenue. It does not escape the Mediapro case either, which significantly weakens the TV rights collected by French clubs.
The new majority shareholder and Olivier Létang will therefore have choices to make to redress the helm of the Lille ship. Bring the LOSC back financially and keep a coherent sports project. Qualifying in the Champions League would already be a big step for the Mastiffs.