What happened to Olympique Lyonnais?
What has happened to Olympique Lyonnais? Only two years ago, they reached the semi-final of the Uefa Champions League and were 180 minutes away from taking on Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in the final in Madrid.
Despite losing that two-legged semi-final to Bayern Munich, Lyon had been the superpower of French football for almost a decade. After winning seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles between 2001-2008, and reaching three Champions League quarter-finals from 2004-2006, they were the team every French club aspired to be.
But after a period of dominance, it all went wrong for Lyon.
In 2008, Claude Puel – who at Lille threatened to bring his team off the pitch against Manchester United in protest of Ryan Gigg’s quickly taken free-kick – was appointed manager of Lyon after taking over the reigns from former Portsmouth boss Alain Perrin.
Puel had enjoyed a successful stint at Lille without winning any trophies. With the Frenchman at the helm, Lille consistently challenged for the Ligue 1 title, but despite having the likes of Michel Bastos in their side, Puel’s men succumbed to the superior quality of Lyon.
At the time, Lyon’s appointment of Puel made sense. Despite failing to knock Lyon off their perch at the top of Ligue 1, Puel had turned Lille into genuine title contenders and had laid strong foundations for the club to enjoy greater success in the near future.
However, Lyon is a club that expects trophies.
Puel’s managerial trophy cabinet had remained untouched since winning the Ligue 1 title with Monaco in 2000, and doubts were cast over whether he could maintain Lyon’s dominance of French football.
Lyon’s expectation of success was perhaps too much for Puel, and even though the 51-year-old took the club to the Champions League semi-final, he failed to win a trophy and left the club in controversial fashion, going to court to claim unpaid wages.
Puel’s attempts to rebuild the team after the departures of Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa and Florent Malouda, just to name a few, ultimately failed.
The signing of Kader Keita for €17million raised eyebrows, including that of chairman Jean-Michel Aulas, and despite sanctioning the transfer, Aulas lost faith in Puel and realised Lyon were a club in need of a fresh approach, on and off the field.
As Puel departed in June 2011, Lyon’s training centre director Remi Garde switched roles to become first team coach.
Garde, who made 31 appearances for Arsenal, steadied the ship, and despite failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 13 seasons in his debut season, the 46-year-old guided Lyon to their first trophy in four years by winning the Coupe de France.
The consequences of not qualifying for the lucrative Champions League competition meant that Lyon’s transfer funds decreased considerably.
Lyon’s attention turned to their prestigious youth academy, which over the years, has nurtured the talents of Benzema, Ben Arfa, Loic Remy and Ludovic Guily.
Going into pre-season, the average age of Lyon’s squad was just 23, and with Aulas saying he wants a “dressing room of 23 or 24 players” and a “young, ambitious squad, full of quality”, the demand on the academy will continue to intensify.
This season, Lyon have been one of the most attractive teams to watch in Ligue 1, and the youthful approach seems to be working.
Having only been beaten once so far this campaign, Lyon find themselves in fourth place in the table, and despite their last match against Marseille being postponed due to strong winds, on the field, they are definitely a ship heading in the right direction.
Although perhaps no longer harbouring ambitions of winning the Champions League or even Ligue 1 due to the dominance of Paris Saint-Germain and financial concerns, Garde and Aulas are trying to build for a sustainable future, and with Uefa’s financial fairplay rules set to shackle the spending power of Europe’s elite, Lyon’s emphasis on youth could see them return to the top of the Ligue 1 table in the not too distant future.
Something You May Have Missed
-Lyon’s game against Marseille at the weekend was postponed due to heavy winds, which resulted in the ‘Napoleon Bonaparte’ vessel crashing into Marseille harbour.
-Karim Benzema is France’s sole representative on the Ballon D’Or shortlist. PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the only Ligue 1 player to make the final 23.
-Highly-rated midfielder Yann M’Vila has returned to training with Rennes, after being suspended for breaching a curfew while with France’s Under-21 squad.Tagged in: football
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