In the early 2000s, there was no bigger force in French football than Olympique Lyonnais. Seven consecutive championships took the fans to paradise, from where they have returned to earth with a painful fall.
It is not the long title drought that is the biggest disappointment for Lyon supporters. Although they were last crowned champions of France 15 years ago, the club has since been constantly in the Euroseries and in the high game.
If the previous season ended in seventh place, the situation is catastrophic this year. After eight rounds, Lyon is penultimate in the 18-club competition, with only three draws in addition to five defeats. The men who are under the care of the world champion Fabio Grosso have scored six goals, of which only last-placed Clermont has managed fewer.
As it stands, Lyon is fighting to stay in Ligue 1. A 16th-place finish would take them into the relegation playoffs and is currently four points away. The 15th position, which definitely gives a place in the championship, is five points away.
Lyon’s steep decline is all the more surprising given that for a long time, they were the best-run club in France. So why is the situation so bad now?
The man who led the club to the top
In 1987, Lyon was acquired by IT businessman Jean-Michel Aulas, whose goal was to bring the club to the Ligue 1 and to a good level in Europe. One of the cornerstones had to be the youth system and good work with talented players, which was handled very well. Several big-name players have risen to the top from Lyon’s academy –attacking legend Karim Benzema for example, to name the most renowned one.
Under the management of Aulas, Lyon achieved one goal after another for twenty years, but in the last decade or so, significant mistakes started to slip in. There were several problems with finding a good head coach, also they did not manage to modernize the youth system.
Last year, Aulas left Lyon, selling his majority stake to the American John Textor. During the Yankee era, the club’s management has been in deep water, and several ex-ballers have pointed out that the current bosses are not up to the job.
For example, Moussa Dembélé, who is currently amassing cash in Saudi Arabia, expressed the following thoughts: “They said that the players are assets. What a lack of respect! Were we on board a slave ship? I am not a property. I am a human being. If the players are the property, who are the fans? Clients?” complained the 27-year-old center-forward.
Dembélé added that during five years in Lyon, he worked under five head coaches, hired by three different sporting directors. “How many more head coaches are they going to fire before they look in the mirror?” asked the Frenchman through the press.
Four games and bye-bye!
This season too, Lyon has already been coached by two head coaches: Laurent Blanc remained in the position for four rounds, after which Grosso took over the reins. In order to strengthen the club during the January transfer window, Textor plans to sell their women’s team playing in the North American professional league, the women’s European team and the newly built indoor arena, which ASVEL of Villeurbanne, playing basketball in the Euroleague, is interested in.
Lyon may get the money, but that doesn’t mean they can splash it on transfers. French football’s financial watchdog DNCG restricted Lyon’s spending in the summer after Textor failed to prove the club had 60 million euros. According to local media, it is possible that the restrictions will also apply in the coming winter.
Lyon’s situation is poor and Grosso knows it. “We cannot fight for high places. Our only fight is for survival,” said the Italian after last weekend’s 3-3 draw with Lorient, where they lost a 3-1 lead at home.
The former giant of France is a lesson in how success is never taken for granted. Twenty years ago the fight for the titles started, now the battle must begin to avoid the crash.