Lille may not be one of Europe’s more fashionable sides currently, yet the team from northern France has played a key role in helping this World Cup to become one of the most attractive and exciting in recent memory.
Many of the players to have impressed this summer in Brazil have passed through the ranks of the Stade Pierre-Mauroy outfit, who finished the most recent Ligue 1 campaign third behind only Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco.
Unlike the two big spenders of the French game, however, Lille have had to live on their wits, picking up bargain signings from other teams before selling them on at a profit or simply producing their own stars through a vibrant youth system.
It is their production of homebred talent that has been particularly noticeable at the World Cup, with no fewer than three of France’s 23-man squad having been nurtured by the side from France’s far north.
Mathieu Debuchy has been the preferred figure on the right of Didier Deschamps’ defence while deep-lying playmaker Yohan Cabaye has enjoyed a crucial role in masterminding the attack. On the bench, meanwhile, sits promising left-back Lucas Digne, who like Cabaye is currently on the books of PSG.
But perhaps the most famous of the club’s alumni turns out for Belgium, the close proximity of which to Lille means it is a rich picking ground for talent. Chelsea attacker Eden Hazard joined LOSC in 2005 as a 14-year-old and left as a player equipped to become one of the best in the world.
Following in the footsteps of Hazard is Divock Origi, an attacker of Kenyan ancestry who really started to make the breakthrough into the professional ranks last season when he scored on the opening day of the season in a 1-0 win over Lorient.
Nevertheless, his call to the Belgium World Cup squad was unexpected but inspired by Marc Wilmots as the 19-year-old has made an unquestionably positive impact on his side thanks to his pace in wide areas. Origi has been linked with a move to Liverpool in the meantime and could net Lille another big fee to further justify their investment and belief in youth.
The scouting system of the club has proven adept in other areas, too. Under Rudi Garcia, who left last summer to join Roma, Lille invested wisely in players, capturing Gervinho and further enhancing his raw attributes to help him become a star of this competition, albeit via an unsatisfactory period with Arsenal.
Salomon Kalou, meanwhile, appears set to bounce back into the Premier League after rejuvenating his career with the 2011 Ligue 1 winners.
Much of that good work has continued in the wake of Garcia leaving, largely thanks to sporting director Frederic Paquet, who has proven to have a good eye for a player.
Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama mysteriously did not appear under Garcia during his first two years with Lille, but the Nigeria star has been reborn given the opportunity under Rene Girard. Despite his error that played a crucial role in the Super Eagles’ elimination from the competition, he has been one of the outstanding keepers in world football over the last year and has seen his value rocket.
Even players who are not in Brazil can look forward to a more promising future thanks to Lille. Simon Kjaer has seen his career reborn with LOSC, while youngsters Idrissa Gueye, Souahilo Meite and Djibril Sidibe have all been given a springboard to enjoy excellent careers.
Rio Mavuba may be the only Lille-based player in the France squad, but he certainly does not standalone in this World Cup as the club’s only representative.