To fully understand the scale of the situation and the concern, we must look back to this month in July 2020. The REM is being sold by Thai businessman Pairoj Piempongsant, while dubious transactions took place with Israeli agent Pini Zahavi, already owner from 2015 to 2018. Gérard Lopez, at the helm of Losc, a neighbor of 25 kilometers, does not miss the opportunity: his holding company Jogo Bonito becomes the shareholder 94% majority. As in Bordeaux a year later, the businessman is presented as the one without whom REM would have disappeared. “He was the only one who could save the club at the time,” assures President Patrick Declerck, a well-known entrepreneur from the Mouscronnoise site, today.
The eye of the needle
Relief and hope spread to the stands at Cannonier, the 8,600-seat stadium that looks pretty proud. “At that point, we say to ourselves that we are finally financially secure, that we will have some stability after several difficult years. In addition, Lille is strong, so we say that Mouscron will be too. Finally we do not want to play the title huh! A quiet club in the first division, that’s enough for us … “, remembers Alain Coorevits, in his sixties, in charge of Ex-L Boys, one of the seven groups of supporters, in the bar” les Fraternelles “, the headquarters of association.
In a city of less than 60,000 inhabitants with a modest economic structure, REM is surrounded by half a dozen pro clubs within an hour’s drive. “We know we are addicted. It is not possible to live on our own resources “, confirms the current general manager, Benjamin Seillier, according to whom it is football that puts Mouscron on the map. Without it, if you ask a Belgian where Mouscron is … For seven years we stayed in the first division, but we went through the eye of the needle several times. Every year we had the smallest budget in the championship. »
As soon as the takeover of Lopez was confirmed, an agreement was immediately signed with Lille, who sent twelve players from his reserve team (six regulars and six on loan) to harden in the Belgian championship, hoping for a future resale at . strong price gain. In return, Losc pays four million euros to REM to fund their salaries. On paper, the case is quite coherent. However, not everyone jumps to the ceiling, starting with Aimé Cardon, leader of the Excel Boys, an ultra group: “With my friends, we stopped coming to the stadium. It meant nothing to us. We’re a supporter of Mouscron, not Lille or its satellite club. There was the coat of arms on the shirt, but that’s it. »
Mitterrand and Mazarine
Fans of the team see another drawback: this model will not function as Futurosport, the Mouscron training center, known in Belgium, and from which all the youth teams achieve good results season after season. “We saw directly that our youngsters were blocked and that they would no longer play on the first team,” laments Frédéric Bekaert, head of Hurlus Red Fans. Quickly, more than half of the eleven-type consists of players from Losc, and whose supporters know they only pass through, especially since almost everyone returns to Lille every day after training.
The Mouscron identity is no longer true. “I want to answer you what Mitterrand answered when we spoke to him about Mazarine:” So what? “, Replies President Patrick Declerck. Me, I have no problem with that. Or we play in the third amateur section with the butcher and baker from Mouscron. These supporters have lots of opinions and live in emotions. I am rational. “In the club we also remember that the diversity of owners since the bankruptcy in 2009 (five before Lopez) had already clearly helped to dilute the local culture . “For ten years, it has been difficult with the various buyers we have known, some who sometimes came from far and wide. I’m a little used to it, even though you never really get used to it. In the long run, it’s exhausting, ”sighs Michel Franceus, vice president, at REM for 30 years.
By buying Mouscron, Gérard Lopez installs trusted men. Diego Lopez, a former Spanish journalist and member of Luis Campos’ scout team, has been named sports director. Fernando Da Cruz, former Little reserve coach, sits on the bench. Employees of Scoutly, the scout unit and others from Losc also arrive, in addition to a nutritionist, a chef … Work is underway to modernize the equipment.
The change is radical. Too brutal even, in a club where togetherness and closeness between all the components is a strength as much as a tradition. Employees and volunteers are confused. “Nobody likes change in life,” said Paul Allaerts, general manager at the time, who joined Jogo Bonito last summer to work at both Girondins and Boavista. I understand that it is not obvious. We installed a staff that “We wanted to develop towards more professionalism. We wanted to improve the infrastructure, and it worked positively for us. All financing aspects are also approved by the board at a reasonable cost.”
Philippe, who has been a volunteer for more than 25 years, protests during his lunch in the clubhouse: “They saw us more beautiful than we were. They wanted luxury. Today, the work in the coaching office or the video room is not even finished. They wanted to do everything immediately and by putting more distance between the players on one side and the rest of the club on the other. Instead of investing 100,000 euros in the work, they would have done better to focus on the athlete. “For on earth the results are disastrous, with six defeats and three draws to start the season. Since Cruz is already fired. The delay will weigh heavily throughout the season: in April 2021, Mouscron will only miss one point to save himself. Return to D1B and complete sporting failure.
In Mouscron, the conclusion is almost unanimous: the level of the Belgian championship was underestimated in the project led by Gérard Lopez, and the players from Lille were not sufficiently involved. Apart from goalkeeper Koffi, who has since traveled to Charleroi, and Junior Onana, now in Bordeaux, no one has given satisfaction. “Some had qualities, others less,” Paul Allaerts sums up politely. It was too early for players, some of whom did not have the level either. They lacked a lot of tactics and experience. The whole team also had Covid … It was not a normal season. “He also rejects two insistent rumors in Mouscron that sports director Diego Lopez made the team and that players from Lille had guaranteed playing time.
The season is so much the less normal since halfway, in January 2021, everything collapses, or almost when Gérard Lopez is fired from Losc by his lending fund, Elliott. The collaboration between the two clubs goes no further than this summer. Despite the repeated turbulence, the Spanish-Luxembourg businessman still does not arrive on the scene. His only visit to Mouscron? The day of the takeover announcement. “The supporter clubs had not even been invited, even though we pay a subscription every year. Then we never saw him. When you do not show up and you are the owner, it is because you do not care, ”screams Frédéric Bekaert from Hurlus Red Fans.
In April 2021, after relegation, the Excel Boys ultra demanded the resignation of the management, issued a “wanted list” about Gérard Lopez all over the city and put up a “for sale” sign in the middle of the stadium. This season, they have repeatedly urged him to “break” from REM. “I know Gérard Lopez is very busy,” replied Patrick Declerk. I was his representative with Paul Allaerts. I get criticized for defending it, but it sticks to the shell of my indifference. Give me a plan B. I have nothing to blame Gérard Lopez other than this excess of funds and players’ salaries last year. It was a mistake, but he said he took it completely. »
Lønninger is one of the current season’s soap operas in Mouscron. They represent four million euros charged over an entire season. From October, they were never paid on time, neither to employees nor to players. According to management and Gérard Lopez, the fault lies with Losc, which did not pay the remaining two million euros to be paid under the agreement. But the problem continues while the club say the salaries are now paid by Gérard Lopez personally. The March transfer has still not arrived and the workforce fears they will no longer be paid at all before the end of the season.
Captain Christophe Lepoint had a first rant on this subject during the fall. Last Sunday, striker Teddy Chevalier imitated him by attacking Gérard Lopez head-on: “He is a coward. He has since retired. The team was relieved of almost all the players who arrived a year earlier and after a change of coach and sporting director
, achieved his maintenance in D1B and his championship ends on Sunday, probably in penultimate place. According to supporters, she could count on “a large group of players” despite a particularly unfavorable context and the departure of the top scorer in January.
The takeover of Bordeaux last summer reinforced the feeling among the people of Mouscron of being left behind, surrendered to their sad fate and the hope of an emergency sale. Under these conditions, preparation for next season is impossible. No one at REM today can say that one is coming.
Diego Lopez is now the coordinator of the Girondins’ recruitment cell.