Will Joe get LOSC in Lille’s system


There is no doubt that this summer’s transfer window will go down as one of the busiest in Ligue 1 history. Marseille, PSG, Lyon and Lille all spent money, bringing in players to strengthen their status as the four biggest teams in France.

Throughout the transfer period it seemed a day didn’t pass without one of the leagues finest linked with a move across the channel to the Premier League. Eden Hazard, André Ayew, Mamadou Sakho, Yann M’Vila and Marvin Martin just some of the stars linked with England’s top clubs.

Usually in France when it comes to deadline day there is very little movement but this year plenty of teams were active on the final day. One move made all the headlines. Joe Cole decided to take a huge gamble and despite offers from various English clubs, he picked the French champions Lille as the club tasked with rescuing his career.

For years it has been said that Cole played with a continental style and is one of a few players that could make the move abroad. Now he will get his chance. Joe could make his debut for Lille against Saint-Etienne on Saturday and so far for player and club everything has gone according to plan.

His new Coach Rudi Garcia seems to have high hopes that the move will be a success.

“He seems happy to be here. Our first real contact came on Tuesday, the day before he signed. We had a good discussion. I think he’s one of the most Latin British footballers. He should settle nicely into our squad. We laid out our project of how we want to play and the spirit within the squad.”

Even his new teammates reacted positively. Long standing Lille full-back Mathieu Debuchy has been impressed with what he has seen so far:

“I think he is a great signing for Lille. He has already shown what he’s capable of on the training ground. We are very pleased to have signed him. He will impose himself step by step,” (LOSC.fr)

It is easy to see why everyone at Lille as happy with the move, for the club it is very low risk. He is on loan so there are no long-term complications. Lille agreed a deal with Liverpool to pay 30% of the player’s wages so the clubs wage structure remains in-tact.

All the risks land on the player himself. He is moving to a new team, a new league and a new country. There are no guarantees that his family will settle in their new surroundings and the most important factor. There is no guarantee that Joe will fit in with his new teammates.

For the last few seasons Lille have played with a very fluid 4-3-3 formation. In front of the back four stands captain Rio Mavuba. The Frenchman is the enforcer, reading the game, intercepting and breaking up any danger. Alongside him is the battle hardened Florent Balmont. With his blood and thunder approach he adds steel and determination to the Lille midfield.

Up until this summer Lille graduate Yohan Cabaye was the man to Mavuba’s left. His excellent passing abilities and superb understanding with Eden Hazard saw Cabaye become the talisman for Les Dogues. After years of service the midfielder moved to Newcastle and in his place came Auxerre’s talisman Benoit Pedretti. The former Sochaux, Marseille and Lyon man was bought as Cabaye’s direct replacement.

There are many similarities between Pedretti and Cabaye, the new man’s passing could possibly be better than Cabaye and he has more experience at the top level. Unfortunately his performances so far have been indifferent. In the opening game against Nancy both new signings Pedretti and Dimitri Payet looked very indecisive in their roles in their new team.

Looking at the average positions from that game you can see both players (#7 and #17 Pedretti) very central and it seemed hesitant, especially from the exciting winger Payet. Of course it will take some time for them both to settle and find their roles within the system.

Pedretti himself was very cautious, reluctant to drift far from Mavuba and very rarely ventured forward in the same way that Cabaye and Balmont did on a regular basis. His heat map from the Nancy game shows a failure to exert himself in the final third and use his excellent passing skills to better use. Luckily for Lille the midfielder has started to improve. Against Caen it was Pedretti that opened the scoring charging forward into the box, he also broke forward to set up Debuchy for the second.

Benoit Pedretti Heat Map

One reason that Garcia is excited by the Joe Cole signing is the options it creates for Lille’s system. Joe could easily play in four positions in the current system. On either wing or in any of the two spots ahead of Mavuba.

When asked about where Joe’s would play Garcia was very positive:

“His arrival allowed us to change our tactics system. I didn’t promise him anything about his time in the team. It is not my habit. The best will play. It is up to him to go back to work quickly.” (L’Equipe)

If the Coach was to keep the current 4-3-3 it would be very easy to see Cole replace Pedretti in the midfield and instantly provide more attacking intent in the centre of the park. Under the guidance Jose Mourinho at Chelsea he asked Joe to play more in the role of a central midfielder and he demonstrated he had the ability to track back and defend as well as use his natural ability to get forward.

With Eden Hazard and Dimitri Payet going wide or finding the space that Sow creates there could be a gap for Cole (#26) to exploit in-between the lines of defence and midfield. Balmont would be able to cover and help out Mavuba, leaving Cole the freedom to find space and link up with the forward line.

As Garcia said the move does allow a change of system and one obvious change would be to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Cole starting as the central playmaker alongside Eden Hazard and Dimitri Payet it could become a very dangerous attack. The trio of Cole, Hazard and Payet would become very interchangeable and a nightmare to defend, not to mention Ligue 1’s top scorer Moussa Sow at the summit benefiting for the creativity behind him.

The signings of forward Irineusz Jelen and Joe Cole late in the transfer window open up options that this Lille side have struggled without as of late. Now the squad looks talented and versatile. All they need now is for Joe Cole and his family to settle in Northern France and for Joe to finally realise his potential showing everyone the sort of player he’s always threatened to become.


  • Bloody hell Andrew–this is excellent! You’ve really made the case for this being a potentially great deal for Lille. They get Cole, possibly motivated to prove himself, at a fraction of the cost, and with a chance to enhance what is already a very attack-oriented side.

  • Good stuff, really interesting article. I’ve never been a fan of Cole generally,but it will be fascinating if/how he adapts to Ligue 1 football and what his role is for Lille. The 4-2-3-1 line-up suggested above looks pretty sexy…

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  • Brilliant stuff there… love the use of images as well. I’m not sure what has happened to Joe Cole. I’ve gone through two knee surgeries myself and I know he’s had issues with his knees as well. I think he just can’t shrug off those initial injuries. He needs to get fit first. The fitting into the system part will hopefully come naturally after that.

  • Are Lille really only paying 30% of his wages?!?!? That’s crazy

  • I think Joe Cole is a great signing for Lille and a real coup for the league. If he gets back to his best he is easily one of the most talented players in Europe in terms of natural ability. Far too technically skilled to regularly perform at his best in the Premier League era of Stoke City etc, he will be much more comfortable in France and I think once match fit he will truly start to express himself.

    Many people say he is past his best but that is not true. At Chelsea he was recovering from a serious long-term injury and at Liverpool he was never given a chance. People should let him get himself into the Lille side, get some math fitness and then judge him. It will be interesting to see how many EPL fans make the effort to watch his games each week.

    £27,000 a week is a bargain, I also read that he took a pay cut to join so I imagine that Liverpool are paying a similar amount on top. Lille have a top side now and in my opinion, although individually some of the players are weaker than last season’s members, the squad is much stronger this year.

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