Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The rise of Lyon

In 1987 nobody had ever really heard of Olympique Lyonnais. Commonly known as just “Lyon”, they were floating around the second division in France but have since seen a meteoric rise to the top of French football, and after thrashing Real Madrid, a real contender to win this season’s Champions League.

While the supporters claim the club was founded in 1899, it was actually founded in 1950 from a split with the original multisport club Lyon Olympique. Since the split Lyon was nothing more than an also ran.

But in 1987 Jean-Michel Aulas, owner of a computer services company, was asked by the Lyon’s mayor to take over the club. Since then Lyon has become the most successful club in France, Aulas, an no other is the reason why.

Aulas has made some great coaching moves in his 18 years as president. Raymond Domenech, JeanTigana, Jacques Santini, Paul le Guen and also the current coach Gerard Houllier have all has their successes and failures, but considering the club’s regional past, that’s an impressive list. A look at Juninho, Fred and John Carew also shows you that they have a great stock of players.

Houllier, while somewhat maligned for his performance at Liverpool has the club poised for a fifth consecutive league title as well as a serious shot at the Champions League, something no French club has won since Marseille in 1993.

You may think that French clubs have no chance in the biggest competitions, but that’s a fallacy. Lyon gets an estimated 20m pounds just from its Canal+ TV rights deal; that sort of cash is on par with Premiership clubs. You may think that French clubs languish behind on marketing and the like, look again. Olympique Lyon has its own restaurant, beer brand, travel agency, a taxi service and a hair salon to compliment the more traditional money makers like the club’s shop. Strange bedfellows, but it’s bringing in money.

One thing that Lyon is clearly not is a cash in on the players kind of club. Jean-Michel Aulas is often quoted as saying you cant win championships by selling players and he as stood behind his words. The Michael Essien saga was not simply a ‘gouge Chelsea’ technique, but more a statement to the media, fans and other clubs that Lyon is intent on becoming a European powerhouse. If you look at the solid lineup of players on display today, they are poised and for that, I wish them luck, this is a club which cares about cultivating the game and has the kind of leadership you cant buy at Manchester United.



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Anonymous haste said...

Would just like to say i enjoy reading all of your articles, every single one makes for a good read, especially the articles about japan, bulgaria etc. Keep this up, it's great work.

11/20/2005 2:28 PM  

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