Loyalty is no meaningless concept to Djezon Boutoille, the skipper and attacking catalyst of surprise French League title challengers Lille.

Boutoille, once a member of the same French Under-21 side as Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet, was expected to quit Lille following their relegation to the Second Division in 1997, and again when they suffered the agony of missing promotion by a single point and then goal difference in the next two years.

But despite the enticements on offer, the Calais-born

forward always refused to budge from his home region, staying true to the club he joined at the age of 14.

Boutoille’s allegiance to the ’Lillois’ colours was not only a refreshing change in these post-Bosman days, but it is now also being abundantly rewarded. Lille ran away with the Second Division title last season, and this term have performed so ably that they are in with a real chance of becoming the first newly-promoted team to win the French championship since Monaco in 1977-78.

‘At the start of this season, our only goal was survival and we thought 42 points would be good enough to ensure it,’ says Boutoille. ‘We weren’t expecting great success. We didn’t win one of our

pre-season games. But we found our feet pretty quickly, won some important games and then had to reassess our objectives.

‘I don’t know if we’re capable of challenging for the title — even qualification for Europe would be fantastic — but it would show a lack of ambition to stop now.

‘We realise there are teams in France with much more potential than us. However no one inthe League has been very consistent and it’s a very open championship. We have our faults technically, but we compensate with our industry and teamwork. We’re a close-knit group; the bulk of the squad has been together for the past three years.’

Boutoille, who says he probably would have followed his father into a career in lacemaking if he had not become a professional footballer, exemplifies the indomitable Lille spirit. Usually stationed on the right flank, he oozes commitment and purpose. Employing the aggression of one of his four pet Rottweiler dogs, he never lets up at defenders, forever taking them on and harrying them when he is not in possession. A forward with bite, indeed.

For a small man, Boutoille jumps well to head the ball, but he is essentially a creator rather than a taker of chances, a fact underlined by a meagre tally of just two goals this season. But with his speed, dribbling ability, excellent set-pieces and combativity, Boutoille has served Lille admirably in this, their dream season.

‘Boutoille is the player who sparks the Lille attack into action,’ says Eric Sikora, the captain of local rivals Lens. ‘He is one of those

forwards who gets at you for the entire game. He’s direct, quickand never gives an inch. ‘

Nick Bidwell


Club Lille

Country France

Born November 9, 1975, in Calais

Previous club Calais

Honours French Under-21 (4 caps)