Thursday 11 a.m. The sun is shining at the La Gaillette training center. In this ultra-modern sports complex, we have an appointment with Florent Ghisolfi, the young and very modern sports director of RC Lens, much more comfortable finding players than pouring out the media. . This 37-year-old former pro player, who has piloted the artesian club since May 2019, made an exception to the rule by agreeing to answer all of our questions. From the extension of Seko Fofana, to his management of the artesian transfer window considered by many observers as one of the most effective in Ligue 1, through his few strokes of genius at a lower cost (Clauss, Frankowski, Sotoca, Gradit ), and the leading role of Franck Haise, he did not evade any subject a few hours from a very important RC Lens-OL for the rest of the season of a club which is at the gates of the Ligue 1 podium.

Florent Ghisolfi: “our strength today at RC Lens is the quality of the organization”

Foot Mercato: Florent, it's no secret that you prefer darkness to light. Why?

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Florent Ghisolfi: it's my nature. I don't need light to be happy. I want to be valued in my work, but I want it to be in the success of the club in which I work. That's why I prefer shade.

FM: can you introduce yourself, for those who don't know you yet?

FG:I am a modern sports director since I am 37 years old. I had a fairly rich career: on the one hand my career as a professional player and then my conversion to the coaching side. And at the same time, I have always been in business and investment management since I was 18. It is this rather rich parallel construction, in various companies, clubs or functions, which makes me today, the man that I am. In all this construction, I always said to myself, because football is my passion, that the job that suits me the most is sports director. He combines the two: footballing vision and business management and all that entails.

FM: your first feat of arms as sports director was to put Franck Haise , then coach of the reserve (N2), at the head of the Team…

FG:(he cuts) no. My first feat of arms is to have built a Ligue 2 squad to move up to Ligue 1 when I arrived in this role in May 2019. I will name players who are still in the project, Sotoca, Gradit, who are players who embody the club's project. And above all, this workforce, it was important to create it in relation to what we wanted to do: create the identity of this team and this club. The players we went for at that time really matched that. After yes, in February 2020, there is another real turning point, it is when we put Franck Haise in office at the head of the first team. Franck is someone I've been watching for 8 months with the reserve team.

“With or without me, Franck Haise would have become a Ligue 1 coach because he had too many qualities”

FM: today, his name is mentioned in Premier League and he is one of the best coaches in Ligue 1, it must be a real satisfaction for you I imagine?

FG: Franck is an extraordinary coach. He's the best coach I've ever met. When we turned it on, it was ready. With or without me, he would have gone out and become a Ligue 1 coach because he had too many qualities. But being the sports director who put his foot in the stirrup, who believed in him, is a real source of pride.

FM: in just a few years, you have become a reference in recruitment, there too there is a feeling of pride?

FG: yes, it is necessarily a point of pride, but this pride is collective, of being very effective in our entire recruitment process and our entire organization in general and everything that ensues.

FM: but then what is your secret?

FG:one cannot speak of a secret. It's a set of things. I think that our strength today is the quality of the process and the organization at all levels. I was lucky enough to be able to build the recruitment cell from A to Z since the club was coming out of a redundancy plan. I was able to rebuild on virgin ground. Today, this recruitment unit, with Greg Thil in charge, looks like me: it is modern, young and very human. There is a real dynamic between us. Our strength today is all the stages of the recruitment process. The club project is readable, the game project is precise, the unit works effectively hand in hand with Franck, the integration stage is often successful thanks to people like Djamal Mezine (team-manager), and in end of the chain the staff is doing a fantastic job in the locker room and on the field for the integration of the recruits.

 Florent Ghisolfi: “our strength today at RC Lens is the quality of the organisation” /></p>
<p><strong>FM: if you had to name just two, what are the most important criteria when signing a player?</strong></p>
<p> < p><strong>FG:</strong>the first thing: does the player correspond to the identity of the club, to the values? We defined this identity at the beginning of the project. And it is our job to judge the values ​​and personality of the targeted players. The second, quite simply, does the player correspond to the game identity? We have a very clear game identity, the player has to stick to our project. There have been cases, even recently without naming names, where the player did not fit these two criteria and with whom we decided not to go further.</p>
<h3>“The club is attractive, it is a reality”</h3>
<p><strong>FM: we have the feeling, observing your recruitment, that you are always one step ahead and that you have already found the replacement for the player who has not yet left the club. I am thinking of Salis Abdul Samed, who has already replaced Cheick Doucouré in the hearts of the supporters or of Loïs Openda, who took the place of Arnaud Kalimuendo…</strong></p>
<p><strong>FG :</strong>our goal is to be one step ahead. Our strength is knowing what type of profile we are looking for in connection with our club game project. We have to be a step ahead, and when we get there it's great. I think Abdul Samed and Openda are two very good examples. Sometimes on a position to be filled or to be replaced, we do not have the ideal profile. And sometimes, we think we have the right profile, but it is beyond our means. For the 2 cases mentioned, we are very satisfied. We are generally very satisfied with the three summer transfer windows that we did because we were in anticipation for each of them. It is also thanks to Arnaud and the President (Joseph Oughourlian, the president of the RCL since 2018). There is everything that happens below, but there is also everything that happens above. His investment means that we can achieve a transfer window of anticipation. It also has guarantees on the anticipation of sales, since to date we have often achieved the objectives set. In any case for the two players mentioned, they are very good examples in terms of choice, integration and also timing since we did them quite early. </p>
<p><strong>FM: Let's take the example of Loïs Openda. How did you convince him to join Lens when many European clubs wanted to recruit him after his excellent season in the Netherlands?</strong></p>
<p><strong>FG:</strong>the club is attractive, it is a reality. We also have a persuasion process for the player which is effective. Today, a player is reassured to come to Lens in a very readable project in which he will be developed and valued. It is the quality of the club and our sports project that makes us very attractive. Franck also invests a lot in this part, and it is reassuring for the player since he will work with him on a daily basis. We are quite satisfied with our ability to convince. This summer, on all recruitments, we made each position the priority set. This is a strong sign. And finally, when we replace Patrick Berg at the very end of the transfer window, which is a switch that was not planned at the start, we manage to recruit Junior Onana who is on the defensive midfielder position number 2 on the list behind Abdul Samed . So we made all our priorities, and number 2 at the very end of the transfer window on an unforeseen recruitment. It's anecdotal and improbable because the player, at the end of August, is still on the market. But that's what makes this summer transfer window 2022 a very satisfying transfer window.</p>
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— Racing Club de Lens (@RCLens) September 1, 2022

“Florian Sotoca truly embodies the values ​​of the club. It is a great source of pride and a great symbol.”

FM: We could cite 10 examples of crazy successes, like bringing Brice Samba back to Ligue 1 after his crazy season at Nottingham, but what transfer are you most proud of today?

FG:it is very difficult to name just one. Because on each transfer, we invest as if it were the most important. If we take the example of Jonathan Clauss, taken in German D2 and who reached the French team, it's an incredible story of course. But if I have to name just one, he knows it because I often tell him, it would be Flo Sotoca. It really has a symbolic side for me. He is the first player recruited in this summer transfer window 2019 and the first scorer in L2 of the season. He is the last just before the COVID shutdown. He is a player with a dented background, who comes from the amateur world. And behind, he was able to adapt in Ligue 1. Today, he is one of the best strikers in L1 (he is the 4th top scorer in L1 with 5 goals in 8 matches). He is 31 years old, but he improves every season. And in terms of values, he really embodies the values ​​of the club. It is a great pride and a great symbol.

FM: you are 4th in Ligue 1 today, when you shave in the morning, do you think of the Champions League?

FG: we all have dreams and goals. I am ambitious. But I don't want to get carried away. I also remain lucid about our financial means. We have been outperforming for 3 seasons. And talking about the Champions League would be a sin of pride. We are progressing season after season on the financial aspect too, but we are still far from the Top 7 economic power of our championship. So rather than daydreaming while shaving, I try to stay focused on work. In this business, if you fall asleep for 5 minutes, you quickly find yourself in difficulty.

FM: the supporters must necessarily think about it, those who have experienced the great hours of the C1 of time of Guillaume Warmuz or Rigobert Song…

FG:it's different ! This is what brings people to football and to the stadium: emotions, dreams. And our supporters deserve to experience the European Cup and its crazy European evenings again. It's an extraordinary public, which is 1000% involved.

“The European Cup would make RC Lens grow at all levels…”

FM: Would qualifying for the European Cup allow you to have even more leeway financially speaking in the transfer window?

FG:Obviously, this would make the club grow at all levels. And would allow him to pass a course. Inevitably, if we were to increase our resources, we could do even more qualitative things, and keep major players longer.

 Florent Ghisolfi: “our strength today at RC Lens is the quality of the organisation” /></p>
<p><strong>FM: what is your club model today? I heard about Atalanta Bergamo, which is doing well on the transfer market and making great gains. What is commonly called “trading”…</strong></p>
<p><strong>FG:</strong>to build the project, I had several sources of inspiration. Atalanta Bergamo is one of them. It's true that we have a fairly similar game project and a fairly similar squad construction. I don't want to name other club names, but yes they are sources of inspiration. But we don't copy anyone. The idea is to build the Lens project with its identity and its values. Of course we need to create value and move the club forward financially, but that's a word we don't use at Lens. What interests us is performance. It is through performance that we will enhance the workforce and our club. </p>
<p><strong>FM: what are the areas of improvement for you at club level? Improve the training center? We see today that you release fewer young people than before.</strong></p>
<p><strong>FG:</strong>training is a very important part of RC Lens. We try, as soon as there is a player who has the potential, to trace the path for him. This is why we are a very small workforce. David Pereira da Costa is the best example of this. So yes, today we think that the academy is an area for improvement at the club since we may be bringing out fewer quality players than in the past. For 3 years, I put a lot of energy on the pros, because that's the locomotive. This summer, I worked on the constitution of the staff of the reserve team and a game project aligned with that of the professionals. And afterwards, we will put energy on the training center.</p>
<p><strong>FM: On the other hand, there are few French clubs that can claim to have such a great atmosphere. Bollaert is in the top 40 attendances in Europe, I imagine that's a great argument when you're negotiating with a player…</strong></p>
<p><strong>FG:</strong> it's part of the attractiveness of the club today. Any player likes to play in this type of atmosphere. She is magical and she is very colorful in Lens. This is necessarily an argument for bringing in players. But it is something that we take into account in the other direction in recruitment since it is something that can also be inhibiting and counterproductive with certain psychological profiles.</p>
<p><strong> FM: Finally, a quick word about Joseph Oughourlian, the owner of RC Lens. What is his importance in the club's project?</strong> </p>
<p><strong>FG:</strong> the success of the club today is his. It was he who saved him from bankruptcy in 2016. He was the one who named the people who worked for renewal like Arnaud Pouille. Success is his and he can savor it.</p>

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