As European soccer enters the Christmas period, domestic leagues and cups are still in full swing with a loaded slate of Boxing Day fixtures in the Premier League and La Liga action from Spain to keep us entertained during the festive period.
As always, with so much going on across the continent, some stories have flown in relatively undetected due to the heavy scheduling.
From the sale of Ligue 1 leaders Lille OSC to Red Bull Salzburg’s UEFA doping test controversy, here are some of the stories you might have missed in detail.
LOSC change hands
With French football’s financial landscape changing at an almost daily rate due to the collapse of the Mediapro television rights deal and Brexit’s impact on Premier League clubs’ ability to spend big on players from France in the future, there has already been one club forced into an ownership change.
Gerard Lopez completed the sale of Ligue 1 leaders Lille to Merlyn Partners’ Callisto Sporting and they are unlikely to be the last club to be announcing new investors or changing ownership entirely because of the current state of French football.
It emerged in the build-up to the deal that Lopez had financed his purchase of LOSC with massive loans and despite a few good years since the start of his project with Les Dogues in 2017, the northern club was still making massive losses in the region of €200 million.
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Obviously, the COVID-19 crisis preventing spectators from watching in stadiums has not helped, but the reality is that Lille were set to be in great financial difficult at the start of 2021 under Lopez’s watch and something had to be done.
Callisto have moved to bring in former Rennes president Olivier Letang to replace Lopez and they remain top of Ligue 1 and in the knockout phase of the Europa League under Christophe Galtier’s excellent leadership.
However, the reality is that the three-time Ligue 1 champions will likely be selling the crown jewels with Renato Sanches at the head of a line of players who could possibly leave Stade Pierre Mauroy as early as January.
More than 10 years on from his ignominious exit as France coach, Raymond Domenech is expected to return to the managerial game with Ligue 1 club Nantes after nearly 30 years out of domestic French soccer.
The 68-year-old, who was undermined by his players at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa in one of the nation’s lowest sporting moments, is likely to be named as Christian Gourcuff’s replacement later this week, chosen ahead of Antoine Kombouare.
Les Canaris are currently struggling in Le Championnat without a win in seven with three losses in that time to sit 15th in the table with owner Waldemar Kita as unpopular as ever.
Former Nantes boss Claudio Ranieri famously said of Domenech in a press conference once that “if he talked about theatre, I could listen but never about football” after criticism of his defensive approach to matches with a limited squad.
If appointed, it will be interesting to see how one of French soccer’s most unpopular figures tries to rebuild his reputation in a role that has seen very few coaches succeed in recent times — especially as it would be his first club role since his 1993 Olympique Lyonnais exit.
Juventus vs. Napoli to be replayed
Napoli have succeeded in overturning their enforced 3-0 loss and one-point penalty after their clash with Juventus in Turin from the third week of the season was cancelled because of a local health authority order due to two COVID-19 cases within the travelling party.
Juventus were awarded the victory and Napoli hit with the penalty which was initially upheld but the Partenopei have now succeeded in getting the result and deduction cancelled by the Italian Olympic Committee with the match set to be replayed.
“We are happy,” stated Napoli President Aurelio De Laurentiis. “We live in a country where those who respect the laws cannot be condemned. Napoli always follow the rules.”
The decision could have significant ramifications on the Serie A title race with Napoli in third and seven points behind leaders AC Milan with a game in hand while Juventus are in the same position from fourth but having played one game more.
“The first comment we make is that we were always extraneous and indifferent to the situation,” Juventus’ Paratici told Sky Sport Italia. “When they tell us to play, we will bring the ball and be there.
“After all, we were ready to play on October 4. There is no response to De Laurentiis, he just said what was obvious. When we are told to play, we will play. The fixture list has been drawn up, there is an organization dealing with it and we will see what they say.”
Adrien Rabiot, who was due to serve a suspension against Napoli, instead sat out the 3-0 home defeat to Fiorentina on Tuesday so will now be able to feature.
Two Salzburg players test positive for banned substance
Red Bull Salzburg have confirmed that Sekou Koita and Mohamed Camara recently tested positive for banned substances in a UEFA doping test after returning from international duty towards the end of November as part of a routine test of 10 players.
In a communique on their official website, Salzburg detailed that both Koita and Camara had “traces of a substance that is a key ingredient in a drug taken to combat altitude sickness” that was given to them by Mali national team staff before travelling to Namibia.
The Austrian giants affirmed their cooperation with UEFA and full support of both players until the matter is cleared up next year.