Vintage season for French club Lens and coach Franck Haise


It’s proving to be a vintage season for Lens and its wine-collecting coach Franck Haise, whose team travels to French league leader Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday amid the club’s best title shot in two decades.

Beating star-studded PSG would move second-place Lens to within three points of the top. The club won its only league title in 1998 and has not come close again since finishing second in 2002.

The rise of Lens just three years after its promotion back to the top flight is credited to Haise’s leadership. A tactically astute coach, he stands out through his relaxed personality and closeness to his players.

Haise never looks stressed by the demands of his job, and there’s a reason for that.

Nicknamed “the oenologist” by his friends for his dedication to wine, Haise’s devotion to all matters wine is his way of escaping the pressures of top-level management.

“When I read the French review of wines, when I watch a program on television about wine or when I am taking part in a tasting, these are the rare moments I’m not thinking about football,” the 51-year-old Haise said in an interview with Ouest-France newspaper. “Of course, I like to go for walks, ride my bike, watch a good film. But in these moments my mind always wanders back to football. However, when I’m in the universe of wine, my mind is not cluttered with other things. It’s my escape.”

His long-standing passion for wine began when he was as an 18-year-old midfielder with Rouen in the late 1980s.

“There were quite a few wine lovers in the squad,” Haise recalled in the newspaper interview. “We had a tradition that, on the eve of matches, we would share a bottle of wine, which of course I was soon the one choosing.”

After five seasons scratching around in the second division, Lens was promoted to the top flight three years ago under Haise’s guidance. He had been coaching the reserves for the three previous years when he was promoted to head coach toward the end of the 2019-20 campaign after Philippe Montanier was fired.

Despite lacking experience, he finished a credible seventh in his first two seasons in the top flight to create a solid platform for this campaign.

Lens has a playing style based around a relentless work ethic that suits the working-class roots of the club’s passionate supporters in what used to be a coal-mining community, located 120 miles (195 kilometers) north of Paris.

Lens combines high-octane pressing with fast transitions to the wings in a counter-attacking style.

Speedy Belgium forward Loïs Openda is the club’s top scorer with 15 league goals and the midfield is led by the outstanding Seko Fofana, who is being chased by some of Europe’s big clubs.

Aside from Openda the goals are shared around – forward Florian Sotoca has six goals and eight assists – underlying the team’s unselfishness.

Haise has played down his team’s chances of winning the league, saying that qualifying for the Champions League directly in second place is the main priority.

Yet statistics show his team has genuine title credentials.

Lens has lost only three league games, the fewest of any club and two less than PSG, and has conceded the fewest goals with only 22 allowed in 30 matches.

Lens was the first team to defeat PSG this season – 3-1 on New Year’s Day in a superb performance after which Haise grabbed a microphone and sang to the home fans.

Lens heads to Paris on the back of four straight league wins, having allowed only one goal.

PSG has lost its last two home games – with World Cup superstar Lionel Messi even jeered by home fans – and was fortunate to win 2-0 at Nice last weekend after the hosts missed several chances to score.

That win gave under-pressure PSG coach Christophe Galtier some breathing room but he is widely expected to be replaced next season. His team has lost eight matches overall this year.

On Wednesday, Galtier denied accusations that he made racist and anti-Muslim comments when he was in charge of Nice last season.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


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