Luís Campos: The rise of football’s most underrated sporting director

Just under two years after he stepped down from his role as the technical director of AS Monaco, Luís Campos vowed to replicate his successes from his tenure at Stade Louis II.

“I don’t want to appear arrogant, but I assure you I will create other ‘masterpieces’ like this in my career,” Campos said in a 2017 interview with Yahoo! Sports’ Duncan Castles.

The 54-year-old’s unwavering belief in his footballing philosophies have paid dividends, with the LOSC Lille side he assembled flying high in Ligue 1 this season.

Les Dogues almost succumbed to relegation down to the second tier last term, but Campos’ eye for talent coupled with a necessary managerial change has brought the good times back to the club.

In his homeland of Portugal, Campos developed immediate interests in football and graduated as an Educator of Sport before earning the title of ‘professor’, much like his compatriots José Mourinho and Carlos Queiroz did in previous years.

Prior to his emergence as a high-quality technical director, he worked as a coach in the lower divisions of Portuguese football, taking up his first managerial role at just 27 years of age with União de Leiria.

Campos’ teams operated with the focus upon possession and intensity off the ball, producing eye-catching performances. Most striking, however, was his most significant coaching achievement in 2004.

Gil Vicente came face to face with FC Porto, and Campos locked horns with Mourinho, as the minnows put an end to their counterparts’ 27-game unbeaten run.

Goals from Gaspar and Luís Coentrão secured the hosts a famous victory, much to the frustration of Mourinho in the Porto dugout, but The Special One did not forget the impressive work of his opposite number.

When he became the new first-team manager of Real Madrid in 2010, Mourinho often called on the tactical equipment provided by Train to Play, better known as T2P.

This system was founded by none other than Campos, who joined forces with another former coach in Américo Magalhães to put his qualities as a coach and an analyst to good use, with some of Europe’s elite managers evidently appreciating the work.

Quietly confident in his own beliefs, Campos is somewhat introverted, and he remained patient and diligent until his time to shine at an elite level presented itself.

Mourinho was left impressed by his compatriot’s work both in Portugal and via his exploits with T2P, growing close with the Esposende-born professor.

He proceeded to appoint him as a tactical analyst and talent scout at Real Madrid in 2012, tasking him with the analysis of opposing teams and the identification of suitable transfer targets from across the globe.

In the short period of time he worked with Mourinho, Campos refined his knowledge of football. He spoke of how working under the manager aided him in his understanding of how the ‘value of rigour and requirement’ should be appreciated in modern football, with his experience helping analyse how character separates the elite players from those with only talent.

As his stock continued to rise quickly, Campos saw his big break in football emerge in 2013 as AS Monaco swooped to secure his services, initially in an advisory role.

Dmitry Rybolovlev purchased a majority stake in the football club, and vice-president Vadim Vasilyev oversaw changes to the infrastructure, with the addition of Campos to the recruitment team proving to be a crucial step.

The Portuguese’s influence at Monaco gradually developed and he oversaw a period of significant financial investment into new signings following the club’s return to Ligue 1.

FC Porto duo João Moutinho and James Rodríguez arrived at Stade Louis II in a double deal worth £60 million, while Radamel Falcao made the surprise move to France from Atlético Madrid for a reported £50 million.

More left-field recruitment was overseen by Campos, too, and his strategies were not limited only to the signings of big-money players. He landed promising Brazilian midfielder Fabinho on loan from Rio Ave, and helped Monaco secure Anthony Martial from Lyon in a £5 million deal, despite then-manager Claudio Ranieri claiming credit for this signing.

This variety in approach continued, too, as experienced defensive pairing Ricardo Carvalho and Eric Abidal arrived in the summer on free transfers, with Dimitar Berbatov signing in January for no cost as well.

Campos’ input allowed him to take a more involved role at Monaco and he established himself quickly as the club’s technical director, overseeing a highly complex recruitment system.

The director opted to lean further towards a youth-oriented approach, with a small scouting team often comprised of six experts with the necessary ‘competence and dedication’, as Campos put it, as he began to assert his authority on proceedings at the club.

The summer of 2014 brought substantial changes to Monaco. James departed for Real Madrid in a £63 million deal after shining at the World Cup with Colombia, while his compatriot Radamel Falcao joined Manchester United on loan.

More notably, however, Ranieri exited his role as the club’s first-team manager and was replaced by the promising Leonardo Jardim, a boss whose emphasis on coaching and nurturing young players appealed to the new-look philosophy of Monaco, orchestrated by Campos.

Shrewd acquisitions were made by the Portuguese director during this transfer window. Bernardo Silva arrived from SL Benfica in a £12 million deal, while 19-year-old Tiémoué Bakayoko joined from Rennes for around £8 million. No one aside from Campos could have predicted quite the degree of success that the pair would go on to enjoy at the club.

He acknowledged that if Monaco were to prolong their stay at a high level in Ligue 1, a sustainable approach was necessary. A philosophy of buying for low prices and selling high was implemented, as Campos described the club as a “good showcase” for younger talent.

The director had always taken an interest in the way that FC Porto operated, with their methods of utilising promising players before cashing in for big profits used as inspiration for his project at Monaco.

Campos even added the club’s scout Admar Lopes to his recruitment team, before taking him along with him to Lille in the following years as the pair struck up a strong working relationship.

Meticulous in his work and perennially analytical, Campos placed vast importance on the viewing of potential transfer targets in the flesh. He referred to how he used to ‘live’ in hotels during his time at Monaco, as he credited personal viewings of players as fundamental to his recruitment methods.

This was to benefit his ability to judge an individual, and not just the footballer, as he compiled reports on their suitability to the project at Monaco.

The work behind the scenes by Les Monégasques, led by Campos, went somewhat unnoticed, as Jardim continued to refine his ever-developing squad despite the departure of Anthony Martial to Manchester United for £36 million plus add-ons, and Geoffrey Kondogbia’s £30 million switch to Inter Milan.

Signings such as Thomas Lemar from Caen and Fabinho from Rio Ave permanently – both arriving for a combined fee worth less than £10 million – would provide the manager with a perfect blend of quality and potential.

Campos left his role at Monaco in August 2015, but the success of his work shone through. Jardim led the club to a third-place finish in Ligue 1, before winning the title in the following season and reaching the Champions League semi-final with players recruited mostly through the director’s nous in the market. Of the starters in Jardim’s title-winning XI in 2016/17, only Djibril Sidibé, Benjamin Mendy and Kamil Glik arrived after Campos’ departure.

The experiences that Campos took from his time at Stade Louis II undoubtedly enhanced his skills not only as a talent-spotter but also as a negotiator, significantly bolstering his reputation as an impressive director.

When Gérard Lopez took over at LOSC Lille towards the end of 2016, fresh ideas were required, and the new owner opted to pursue Monaco’s former technical director to head up the recruitment team at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

Campos appeared to be close to joining Marseille, but at the eleventh hour opted to take up Lopez on his offer, becoming Lille’s new sporting director.

After adjusting to his surroundings, the Portuguese wasted no time in stamping his mark on proceedings at the club.

Having been with Les Dogues for less than a year, Campos oversaw the departures of 22 players, with 17 fresh faces arriving at Lille as they overhauled the squad with Marcelo Bielsa leading the first team into the new season.

The Ligue 1 outfit had high hopes of success for the 2017/18 campaign, but they grossly underachieved. With 12 points amassed from only 13 top-flight games, Bielsa was relieved of his duties after a catastrophic, short-lived tenure at the club.

Despite retaining a stronghold on negotiations regarding transfers at Lille, much to the apparent frustration of the manager, Campos seemed to take a backseat as the Argentine typically attempted to assert his authority upon the running of the club at first-team level.

Christophe Galtier, who had enjoyed several successful years with Saint-Étienne, replaced Bielsa and helped Lille narrowly avoid the drop down to Ligue 2, finishing in 17th place as tensions eventually eased.

In the aftermath of such a fortunate escape for the club, it became alarmingly obvious that a vital summer transfer window would lie ahead, as Campos was tasked with working within the limitations of a strict budget to provide Galtier with sufficient quality and young talent to develop into first-team stars.

It’s safe to say that the Lille sporting director delivered, and produced one of the most impressive transfer windows from a European club last year.

Obscure markets were explored by Campos, with a range of experienced heads and young blood signed on the cheap contributing to a new-look, exuberant crop of players at Galtier’s disposal.

José Fonte’s move to Lille acts as a perfect example of how the director is capable of identifying players who are perfect matches for the project at hand.

The centre-back is 35 years old, failed to impress at West Ham United and Dalian Yifang, and arrived in France on a free transfer with little expected of him. It seemed the former Portugal and Southampton star had seen his best days gone by.

In a quite astounding turnaround, however, Fonte has been one of Ligue 1’s standout central defenders, providing Lille with an experienced head and leadership at the back.

Campos continued to assess players who could join for low-cost sums or, in astonishingly regular cases, for free.

Fonte is not the only player who arrived for nothing but has gone on to become a vital cog in Galtier’s plans, with Rafael Leão and Jonathan Bamba also acting as examples of the director’s astute methods.

Leão arrived from Sporting CP on a free transfer and has led the line well for Lille this season. Bamba, on the other hand, linked up with Galtier again at the expiration of his contract with Saint-Étienne.

The young attacking pair, aged 19 and 22 respectively, have been regulars this season and appear to have hugely promising futures in the top flight of French football.

In arguably Campos’ most impressive signing of the summer, through, the Ligue 1 club unearthed a gem in Zeki Çelik. He was playing in Turkey’s second division for İstanbulspor before the Portuguese director swooped and landed him for just over £2 million.

The young defender has been mightily impressive for Lille and is regarded as one of the best young right-backs in the league now. His rise to prominence is a credit to the precise and shrewd nature of the club’s recruitment methods, driven by Campos’ rigorous ways.

It is not just the work of the former Real Madrid scout in 2018 that caught the eye, however. What deserves commendation, also, is that many of Campos’ signings during the previous summer, the same ones who came under scrutiny in last season’s relegation scrap, have finally come into their own under Galtier this term.

Young Paris Saint-Germain duo Fodé Ballo-Touré and Boubakary Soumaré arrived as free transfers, and both have thrived with more regular game time, with the former moving to AS Monaco for £10 million in the most recent January transfer window after a string of impressive performances for Lille.

Thiago Mendes, too, arrived in 2017 for a reported £8 million from São Paulo. He struggled to genuinely convince in his maiden season in Ligue 1 but has thrived since, cementing his place in the starting line-up. The Brazilian is now among the most effective holding midfielders in the division.

Most impressive, of course, has been Nicolas Pépé. The Ivorian winger has been Lille’s talisman this season and has found the net on 16 occasions in Ligue 1, contributing with a further 10 assists.

He joined the club from Angers in the summer of 2017 for a reported £9 million and has exploded into life this term, with his consistent form attracting interest from elite clubs across Europe.

Such has been the quality of Pépé’s performances, Campos was forced to state in January that Lille would not be negotiating the sale of their star man unless offers worth more than €80 million came.

The winger has been part of a scintillating, youthful quartet at the very forefront of Galtier’s line-up. Pépé, 23, has operated on the right, with underrated summer signing Jonathan Ikoné, 20, through the middle.

Bamba operates on the left-hand side, and Leão leads the line, making for a massively promising front four that boasts an average age of 21 years old, one that has fired Lille to second place in Ligue 1.

Much of the club’s success this season owes to the outstanding tactical and developmental work of Galtier. He has stepped up and played his part in altering the club’s fortunes to a seismic extent.

However, none of this would have been possible without the analytical, intelligent footballing brain of Campos, developed throughout the divisions in Portugal during his coaching days and refined at elite clubs in talent-spotting roles.

Top-tier sporting directors aren’t often attributed the credit that their dedication and decision-making warrants, and this is more than true with regards to Campos.

His stellar work in the transfer market has regularly gone unnoticed, and he has proven time and time again during his stints with Monaco and Lille that he is excellent at identifying talented young players to suit a club’s philosophy.

All the more eye-catching, though, is his knack of landing these players in bargain deals with a view to selling them on in years to come for hefty profits.

This was exemplified by Bernardo Silva and Bakayoko, as they provided Monaco with a combined £60 million profit following their moves to Manchester City and Chelsea respectively, proving a testament to Campos’ work.

No single sporting director in European football is as underrated as Lille’s, but a strong case can also be made to suggest that currently, Campos is the best in the business.

He promised that his work at Monaco would not be his final ‘masterpiece’, and as Lille sit pretty near the top of Ligue 1 with a modestly-assembled squad this term, Campos is proving his worth and then some.

By: Luke Osman

Photo: Gabriel Fraga /