From PSG's conquerors to what? Lille face disintegration as Galtier, Soumare and Maignan begin exodus

Maignan Galtier Soumare Lille GFXGetty/Goal

Not a week has passed since Lille won the Ligue 1 title and the dismantling of their squad has already begun.

Mike Maignan, the goalkeeper who kept more clean sheets than any other in Europe’s big five leagues and finished fourth in terms of save percentage, has completed a move AC Milan in a deal worth an estimated €15 million (£13m/$18m).

Promising midfielder Boubakary Soumare, meanwhile, is set to become the latest Frenchman to be exported to Leicester City, with the Foxes expected to pay around £21.5m ($30m) for the privilege of signing a player once courted by Manchester United as a replacement for Paul Pogba.

Perhaps the most alarming loss for Lille, though, is that of head coach Christophe Galtier.

The 54-year-old has been a coach for 12 years with Saint-Etienne and now Lille, and has yet to have been sacked. In the modern era, where success must be achieved quickly and jobs seemingly lost on the toss of a coin, his record is remarkable.

And that is even before taking into account the miniature Ligue 1 trophy that now adorns his mantelpiece.

Galtier, who is known to be a fan of the Premier League and is capable in English, is not about to make the short hope across the English Channel, where he was once Alain Perrin’s right-hand man at Portsmouth.

Instead, his probable destination lies elsewhere in Ligue 1, with more lucrative challenges tempting him at both Nice, a club with vast resources that has underperformed in the last two seasons, and Lyon, one of the modern behemoths for the French game seeking a way to challenge Paris Saint-Germain at the summit once more.

“I’m quite simply convinced that I’ve done my time here,” he told L’Equipe when revealing his departure from Lille just 48 hours after securing the league title.

“My decision is not linked to Lille’s final ranking – if we had finished fourth or seventh, I’d have come to the same decision.

“I need something else. I don’t want to fall into a routine, as I experienced at one point at Saint-Etienne.”

Christophe Galtier Lille quote GFX
Getty/Goal

He has admitted himself that going elsewhere in France, with the notable exception of PSG, represents something of a sideways step, but he is nevertheless unwavering.

Galtier at least hinted that a mid-season takeover had been a catalyst for his decision. He had a strong working relationship with previous owner Gerard Lopez, whose investment and vision ultimately allowed Lille to win the league.

“It’s not a question of comparing Gerard Lopez to president Olivier Letang,” he said. “I was expected to extend my deal earlier in the season, and if I had, maybe I would have continued. And I mean maybe.”

Indeed, it was feared in December that the takeover by Luxembourg-based investment group Merlyn Partners may lead a January fire sale of players.

While it would be an exaggeration to suggest the deals being made now simply represent a postponement of that – Ligue 1 clubs that challenge or beat PSG typically find it impossible to retain the core of their squad – there is certainly worry at how quickly key squad members are departing.

Lille Ligue 1 champions GFX
Getty/Goal

The last club to beat the Parisians to the Ligue 1 title was Monaco in 2017.A club in a stronger position that Lille are presently, within 18 months of their title success, they had seen the bulk of the key players from their title winning squad, including Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and, of course, Kylian Mbappe depart.

Two seasons after winning the title, they finished just one spot above the relegation places. It has taken the two more years to return to the top of the French game, aided by an outstanding performance by head coach Niko Kovac.

Lille may not be so lucky. Their new owners represent a dramatic unknown and the club has recently lost one of the game’s outstanding sporting directors in Luis Campos.

The bones of their title-winning squad are already being picked over before the hangovers have faded, and soon the reality of this new status will become apparent.  

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Jonathan Ikone, Zeki Celik, Renato Sanches and Sven Botman are all likely to appear on the shopping lists of some of Europe’s biggest clubs, while the futures of unlikely title hero Burak Yilmaz and veteran captain Jose Fonte are not resolved.

The summer may have started perfectly for Lille, but what follows is long and unknown.

It already seems that they are set to fall - it may just be a case of how fast and how hard.