Lens clash with Arsenal recalls glory days for resurgent French side – The Namibian
Lens’ Champions League conflict with Arsenal on Tuesday will see the French facet come full circle within the season that marks their return to Europe’s elite membership competitors after twenty years away.
The golden period for the Blood and Gold (“Les Sang et Or”) got here within the late Nineties and early 2000s, earlier than a protracted stint within the doldrums after which a outstanding current revival.
Lens had been topped French champions in 1998 for the one time of their historical past, an achievement which earned them a primary crack on the Champions League.
In November that 12 months, having already held the Arsenal of Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Nicolas Anelka and Marc Overmars at dwelling, they travelled to London to play Arsene Wenger’s facet at Wembley.
A Mickael Debeve purpose gave them a shock 1-0 win as 8,000 travelling followers celebrated one of many most interesting leads to the membership’s historical past.
“It was the excessive level of my profession,” recalled Debeve, hardly a celebrity, in an interview final 12 months with lensois.com.
“They had been probably the greatest two or three groups in Europe on the time. It was like taking part in towards Actual Madrid or Barcelona, a workforce stuffed with internationals.
“It was sudden for us to be taking part in in such a contest towards a workforce like that.”
Spell within the doldrums
Lens had been nonetheless denied a spot within the knockout rounds by Andriy Shevchenko’s Dynamo Kyiv, and two years later Arsenal gained revenge by beating the French membership within the UEFA Cup semi-finals.
Now, 1 / 4 of a century on from that evening at Wembley, Lens will host Arsenal at a packed Stade Bollaert-Delelis, whose 38,000 capability is famously bigger than the complete inhabitants of the northern French city.
Lens did have one different crack on the Champions League in 2002/03, beating AC Milan and drawing with Bayern Munich.
However decline set in as they suffered three relegations between 2008 and 2015 and spent the perfect a part of a decade in Ligue 2.
It was arduous to think about them returning to this stage, particularly given the context in Lens itself.
Located in an industrial area close to France’s border with Belgium, Lens was a centre of coal manufacturing for over a century earlier than the final mine shut within the Eighties.
That was an enormous financial blow to the city, which is among the many poorest settlements in France and the place Marine Le Pen got here out on high by a distance within the 2022 presidential election.
It’s a world away from the glamour of Paris, the opposite French metropolis internet hosting Champions League soccer this season.
But the resurgence at Lens started with the arrival of a Parisian-born financier, Joseph Oughourlian, who turned majority shareholder in 2016.
On the sector the chief architect of their success is Franck Haise, the coach and basic supervisor who has been in cost since 2020.
He steered the workforce to promotion that 12 months after which led them to successive seventh-placed finishes.
Lens improved steadily till charging to a outstanding second-place end final season, once they took the title race with Paris Saint-Germain all the way down to the penultimate recreation regardless of working on a finances lower than 10 % that of the Qatar-backed giants.
“My dream was to take Lens into Europe. I didn’t know if we might do it, or if I might nonetheless be there,” Haise stated on the finish of final season.
“It’s a supply of immense pleasure. It isn’t simply the results of one season’s work.”
But Haise’s squad was weakened over the summer season, with inspirational captain Seko Fofana becoming a member of Saudi membership Al-Nassr and star striker Lois Openda going to RB Leipzig in a deal reportedly price round 50 million euros ($53 million).
Lens began this season poorly, gathering one level from 5 league video games earlier than a preventing 1-1 draw with Sevilla of their Champions League opener.
Again-to-back home wins have adopted, together with on Friday towards a Strasbourg facet coached by Vieira, when striker Elye Wahi scored his first purpose since signing from Montpellier for a club-record 35 million euros.
“I don’t know if that’s us again, however we’re performing higher than in our video games firstly of the season,” stated Haise, who will now hope his workforce can provide the membership’s followers one other evening to recollect in Europe.