Lens will not win the Ligue 1 title, but this season will be remembered for the extraordinary exploits of the northern club, which is certain to qualify for the Champions League.
The fact that PSG has not yet formally sealed a ninth championship in 11 seasons as the season enters its final weekend is due in part to the Qatar-owned club’s struggles in recent months.
However, it is also down to Lens, who have broken their own season points record with two games remaining.
They play already-relegated Ajaccio on Saturday, and a win would give them 81 points, more than any other team that has finished second to Qatar-era PSG.
Mathematically, they might still win their first championship since 1998, but a six-point deficit to PSG and a vastly inferior goal differential make that likelihood unlikely.
Nobody in Lens will be dissatisfied if they finish second, and with a five-point cushion over third-placed Marseille, they will be guaranteed second place – and a place in the Champions League group stage – if they beat Ajaccio.
“We must not forget that we have not yet qualified for the Champions League. The last step is always the hardest one,” warned stalwart forward Florian Sotoca on Thursday.
Lens last competed in the Champions League two decades ago. In 2002/03, they drew with Bayern Munich and defeated AC Milan.
Returning to that level would be an incredible accomplishment for a club that spent the majority of the last decade in Ligue 2 until achieving promotion in 2020.
It is, however, no less than they deserve for the work done on a reported 62 million euro ($66 million) budget.
Under the president of investor Joseph Oughourlian, the club from an ancient mining hamlet in France’s far north, where the 38,000-capacity of their Stade Bollaert-Delelis is larger than the town itself, has been successfully administered.
On the field, they have made shrewd signings, and manager Franck Haise has fashioned an amazing club from a side devoid of superstars.
Goalkeeper Brice Samba, captain and Ivory Coast midfielder Seko Fofana, and Belgium forward Lois Openda are among the famous names.
Bigger clubs will be approaching them soon, but Lens is hoping they will stay for the upcoming European adventure.
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