The year 1998 remains a year apart for France football: of course, the Blues have become world champions but two months earlier, another feat had marked the little world of the round robin tricolor, the title won by the Racing club of Lens. At the head of the team, Daniel Leclercq had earned the nickname of Druid.
It was necessary to refer to possible supernatural gifts from his coach to explain the success of this popular club, more outsider than favorite, who had managed to beat the odds to afford the first and only title of champion of France of its history.
Twenty-one years after this unexpected coronation, the former player and coach of RC Lens died at the age of 70 following a pulmonary embolism as announced by the Voice of the North. The club paid tribute to him, saluting the memory of the "Player, coach and iconic club figure. "
It is with great sadness that we learned of the loss of one of our own. Player, coach and figure figure … https://t.co/nhfVrNIyV7
A title of champion of France as OM player
Born in Trith-Saint-Léger, next to Valenciennes, he began his football career in the club of the neighboring sub-prefecture with which he played his first encounter in the first division in 1968.
He signed two years later at the Olympique de Marseille, where he became champion of France in 1971, before joining in 1974, the club of his future exploits, RC Lens (1974-1983).
In total, this central defender, the imposing size (1 m 85), will have played more than 350 division 1 games.
Retired in the mid-1980s, Daniel Leclercq went on almost immediately with a coaching career that will make him scour the clubs of northern France. He occupies the benches of Bauvin, Valenciennes, Bavay, Guesnain before returning to RC Lens as a youth coach.
It was not until 1997 that he was appointed to the position of Senior Team Coach, thanks to Roger Lemerre, who recommended him to succeed President Gervais Martel.
Former Lensois player, Jimmy Adjovi-Boco remembers the personality of Leclercq. "He was my coach for half a season, when he participated in saving as Roger Lemerre's assistant the relegation club. (season 1996-1997). I knew him for a few seasons since he was the youth coach and was often discussed, recalls the one who left Lens a year before the title, It was rigor personified, someone extremely demanding, and that is what led the club to the title in 1998. There is a wonderful alchemy between the skills of Daniel and the quality of the players who were there. "
In an extraordinary 1997-1998 season, marked by Tony Vairelles' dribbles, the goals of Serbian center-forward Anto Drobnak and Stéphane Ziani's milestones, goalkeeper Guillaume Warmuz's saves, and the captain's experience. Jean-Guy Wallemme, Lens won the title on the final day thanks to Yoann Lachor's equalizer goal on the AJ Auxerre pitch.
The artesian club is ahead of its rivals FC Metz, far ahead of Monaco, Marseille or Bordeaux.
The former Benin defender is still impressed by his former coach Daniel Leclercq: "He had been a great player with his famous left paw. He breathed football and loved to convey his knowledge of the game as tactical as technical. There are not many coaches, at the age he had, able to illustrate a cross to his players to put the ball and send it perfectly to the desired place … "
"Flag bearer of northern pride"
In 1999, not without having won a second title (Coupe de la Ligue), Daniel Leclercq left RC Lens, staying close to its president. He made an express pass in Belgium at the Louviéroise, then found the job in Valenciennes for two seasons, between 2003 and 2005, allowing the club to move into the second division.
In 2008, he returned to his heart club as sports director of RC Lens. He remains three seasons, knowing two relegations in Ligue 2, before retiring from the professional world but without ever giving up football.
He took care of the Arleux-Féchain club for a few seasons before joining SC Douai, where he became sporting director and coach.
Philippe Brodziak, president of this amateur club north, tells his almost three years of collaboration with the Druid: "Even though he was born near Valenciennes, he was a great Douai figure who had been living in the Douaisis for more than forty years. He had a lot of demands, he asked a lot, sometimes with a rather complicated character but outside the sports scene, he was a very nice boy with a heart on his hand. "
The disappearance of Daniel Leclercq leaves a big void in northern football. "He embodies the football of the North in all his values, he was someone of great fidelity, not very expansive but when he loved you he really loved you", book Jimmy Adjovi-Boco.
"He had this image of the title of 1998 and this presence. In the area, everyone has a little RC Lens in the heart. Daniel was the standard bearer of this northern pride »adds Philippe Brodziak.