PARIS (AP) — League leader Lille has been sold to a Luxembourg-based investment fund as the fallout from a collapsed television deal continues to impact French clubs financially.
Lille said in a statement that the sale from Gerard Lopez to Callisto Sporting, a subsidiary of Merlyn Partners, went through on Friday.
“Given the recent difficulties in the French first division and especially the uncertainty surrounding TV rights for the French league, it’s important for Lille to have an owner of reference, known to be financially sound, like Merlyn,” Lopez said on the club’s website.
Lopez and director of soccer Luis Campos, a renowned talent scout with a huge network in Europe and South America, both left with immediate effect. Campos was immediately linked to English giant Manchester United.
Lopez was replaced by former Rennes president Olivier Letang, formerly Paris Saint-Germain’s sporting director. Marc Ingla resigned from his role as general director but is staying on the board of directors.
“We strongly believe in the club’s potential and we will work to fulfill Lille’s full potential,” Merlyn said in a statement. “We intend to give Olivier Letang and his team the necessary means to succeed in their new roles.”
The northern club reportedly still owes 123 million euros ($150 million) of the 225 million euros ($276 million) borrowed from creditors JP Morgan and Elliott Management, carries loans taken out on its training ground, and must settle historical debts from its previous ownership.
Lille said that Merlyn will “considerably reduce” those debts and “new funds will be injected into the club.”
On the field, Lille has been doing very well, losing just two of 21 games overall domestically and in the Europa League ahead of Sunday’s match with defending champion PSG, which is in second place.
Lille coach Christophe Galtier had a strong working relationship with Lopez, but he also welcomed Letang’s arrival.
“Olivier did a remarkable job with Reims, Paris and Rennes and with him I think we are going to enjoy even more good times,” Galtier said.
The collapse of French soccer’s four-year broadcast rights deal with Mediapro has disrupted financial plans in an already pandemic-hit season and could lead to widespread sales when the transfer window opens next month. France is already considered a selling league, but clubs are expected to be forced to sell earlier than planned.
Just months into its contract with Mediapro, France’s Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) recently terminated a deal that was to be worth more than 3 billion euros ($3.6 billion) for the 20-team top tier.
Mediapro missed a scheduled payment in October of 172 million euros ($209 million) to televise games on its new Telefoot network. Another for 152.5 million euros ($185 million) was not made this month.
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