Let’s first start in 2002. There was a movie opening in French theaters called “Rene”. The film stars Joel Lefrancois as a 340-pound man named Rene who tries to lose weight to win back his old girlfriend. What is interesting is that this film was semi-inspired by an attempt by Lefrancois’ friends to help him lose weight, thus making it somewhat of a documentary as well as a drama. The movie was produced by Michel Seydoux.
At the same time that Seydoux was releasing his newest movie (a business he had been in since the early 1970s), he was also continuing to purchase more stock at Lille and replaced Francis Graille as the team’s president. Not long after, Seydoux would become the majority stock holder in the team.
At around the same time that Seydoux took over majority ownership, a Lille scout made his way up to Tubize, Belgium to check out some young talent at a tournament that was being held. One player caught his eye…Eden Hazard. Hazard’s father liked the idea of Eden moving to France to master his skills, and agreed to terms with the north France team to sign his son to a youth contract. This was the start of a very productive partnership for both Lille and Eden Hazard.
Now, in 2011, we all know what Eden Hazard can do. He is a master at passing. A master at shooting. A master at control and keeping the ball on his feet, even with defenders lunging toward him to try to knock him off it. He is starting to be named in the same breath as many European superstars. And his team, Lille, are on the verge of doing the double, something that is nearly an impossible accomplishment in France.
But even with all of this hype that surrounds Hazard in the international press, and all the YouTube clips that you can find on the young superstar, which results in over 1,000 videos, there is one bit important news that nobody really looked at seriously.
On March 4th, Lille and Hazard agreed to a contract extension that would keep the player at the club until 2015. It doesn’t sound like much, but this simple bit of news might have just made Lille a serious for multiple titles and, dare we say it, Champions League success.
For the last few years, with the exception of Lyon, French football clubs on all levels haven’t exactly been known as the most business savvy organizations. For example, let’s examine the case of Bordeaux in regards to Marouane Chamakh. The team could have sold him earlier and made some money off the transaction. The team could have signed him, even though the player did make it quite clear that he wanted to play in England the following season. But no matter what the situation, Bordeaux ended up being the big loser in the Chamakh experience, a player their trained and groomed for success, walking away from the table with nothing more than pocket lint.
Now take a look toward the north, and to Lille and their organization. By signing Hazard to another season, Lille have made an extremely bold statement. In fact, they have made two very bold statements.
There are two possible scenarios that can play out with Eden Hazard.
The first scenario is that Lille truly intend on keeping Hazard at the club until 2015. If this is the case, Seydoux, Rudi Garcia and the rest of the organization can build a team around Hazard’s experience. One of the biggest problem’s in French football is the constant changing of players season after season. In the United States, there is something called a “franchise player”, in which a team builds their franchise on the backs of that player. In the EPL, we see this happening as well with the top teams. We have John Terry and Frank Lampard at Chelsea, Fabregas and van Persie at Arsenal, Rooney and Giggs at Manchester United.
In France, we rarely see this type of “franchise player” system implemented. The only team in Ligue 1 that has been able to do this successfully would by Lyon, building a team around a number of players like Juninho, Malouda, Diarra and a number of others. What was the result? Seven straight titles.
That is just scenario number one. There is also a second scenario. By signing this contract extension (as well as signing one last year that would have kept him with the team until 2014), Eden Hazard has made it clear that he has no problem staying at Lille and helping that team win the Ligue 1 title for the next three seasons as well as helping the organization in European competition. Unlike Dimitri Payet, Marouane Chamakh or Stephane Sessegnon, Hazard continues to show that he is committed to Lille, their organization and their supporters.
What does this mean? It means that the price of Eden Hazard has just skyrocketed. In recent months, we have heard a number of teams linked to Hazard. Just in the last few days, Inter Milan have been rumored to offer 25 million Euros for the Lille midfielder. And even with all of this talk about him moving to England, Italy, Spain or wherever, Hazard didn’t “pull a Chamakh”. He didn’t just sit on his contract which expires in 2014. Instead he made a commitment to the club for yet another season, even with transfer rumors to Europe’s “biggest clubs” looming. Therefore, it will take more than just “Veruca Saltian” tactics to pry this golden ticket from Lille. Teams might be “breaking the bank” to get their hands on this one precious player.
Therefore, was this move by Michel Seydoux and the Lille organization a Michaelangelo-type football masterpiece in which they can stand back in amazement and hold their heads high? We shall see, as brilliance followed by disappointment has been a motto in French football throughout the years.
But no matter how Lille plays this, they have just netted themselves a championship team for the next few years. They can either build the team around Hazard, possibly becoming the new “Lyon of 2001″, with a string of Ligue 1 titles in the foreseeable future. Or, they can sell Hazard for an astronomical amount and create a new team around the cash they get from Hazard’s sale, similar to Lyon’s buying spree after the selling of Karim Benzema in 2009. No matter how they play it, the re-signing of Hazard was a win-win situation and makes Michel Seydoux and his organization some of the smartest businessmen in Ligue 1.
Bordeaux, we hope you are taking notes.