Lyon – The forgotten team of European football

Paris Saint-Germain stole the headlines this weekend as a Zlatan Ibrahimovic inspired 9-0 rout over Troyes saw the Parisian side lift the Ligue 1 title with eight games to spare.

Meanwhile in Stade de la Route de Lorient, Rennes bagged a late equaliser to peg back Lyon to a 2-2 draw after goals from Lacazette and Ghezzal had Lyon in front.

A win would have put Bruno Genesio’s men into the third and final Champions League place but instead a solitary point leaves them fourth behind OGC Nice.

 

They are a further six points behind second placed Monaco and a staggering 31 points adrift of runaway leaders and already crowned champions PSG.

In reading the above it is easy to forget the successes of the team who called the Stade Gerland their home up until January of this year when they moved into their new Parc Olympique Lyonnais.

Lyon were the French Champions for seven years in a row, from 2001 to 2008 they were the only team to put their hands on the trophy.

Not only that but the French side were Champions League semi-finalists back in 2009/10 and quarter finalists in 2003/04, 2004/05 and 2005/06, not to mention the other domestic honours they gathered in that time.

It is hard to pinpoint where it has all gone wrong since then, they have finished in the top two just twice since their last league triumph in 2008, the last of which being last year when they were eight points off winners PSG.

In this seasons Champions League they lost four matches, drew one away to Gent and managed one win, away to a Valencia side who had just introduced Gary Neville as their boss, in fact it was his first game in charge.

In fourth at the moment their European future is in doubt, in the Champions League at least, and are they to qualify they will more than likely face the play-off that comes with a third place finish in Ligue 1.

Could their rapid decline be put down solely to the rise of PSG thanks to their takeover in 2011?

No, quite frankly. Yes PSG’s Qatari takeover propelled them to levels no other team in France can currently reach but the decline started long before this which took place in 2011, Zlatan Ibrahimovic didn’t arrive until the following year.

In the 2009/10 season Lyon were second to Marseille, 2010/11 they were behind both Lille and Marseille in third and in 2011/12, the year of PSG’s takeover they came fourth as Montpellier pulled off a huge shock and stole the title away from PSG.

In their heyday of 2002 to 2008, Paul Le Guen (2002-05) and Gerard Houllier (2005-07) were at the helm for the most part, this was by far their most successful period.

Alain Perrin took over from Houllier in 2007 and led the side to a domestic double, Lyon’s first ever in fact, before leaving the following summer. Claude Puel, Remi Garde and Hubert Fournier have been in charge since leading up to the present day Bruno Genesio.

 

The summer of 2007 can be pinpointed as a big summer in Lyon’s demise, Houllier was no longer in charge, Florent Malouda left for Chelsea, Abidal headed to the Camp Nou, Tiago was off to Juventus and Alou Diarra went to rivals Bordeaux. All big moves.

Kader Keita and Cesar Delgado both joined the club for a lot of money and while they weren’t flops they didn’t set the world alight at the same time, albeit Alain Perrin guided them to a domestic double.

Claude Puel took over from Perrin and under him the exodus continued as Ben Arfa headed to another rival in Marseille. Lyon did however purchase some top players in Miralem Pjanic, now of Roma and Hugo Lloris who of course is one of Europe’s best goalkeepers these days.

Another summer in 2009 and another big name departure, Karim Benzema was joining the new era of the Galactico’s in Madrid and Puem was forced to rebuild his side yet again.

He wasted no time in spending that money as he brought in an array of talent, Lisandro Lopez from Porto was a particularly big transfer at the time but none of the new men could replicate Benzema’s form.

Gourcuff arrived a year later for €22 million from Bordeaux but was extremely disappointing.

That brings us to 2011 and the influx of Qatari money in Paris, while big money signings flooded into the capital Lyon failed to make a notable signing that transfer window and key players Miralem Pjanic and Jeremy Toulalan left the Stade Gerland.

From then the downward spiral has continued, a second placed finish last year being a highlight of a torrid few years for a once such successful club.

Back in 2005, Lyon beat Real Madrid 3-0 at the Stade Gerland in a group F fixture in the UEFA Champions League. Earlier this season, 11 years on, they were beaten by Belgian side Gent on a scoreline of two goals to one at home. Things really have changed.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? It is hard to call. Players like Lacazette and Gonalons give fans hope but with the constant rumours of these players being wanted abroad, Lacazette in particular, optimism is hard to come by.

The gap at the moment o PSG stands at 31 points and by the seasons end it could be more, Lyon have a long road back if they are bridge that gap and at least compete with the big spending champions.

Author Details

Cormac O'Shea

Journalism student at DCU, Liverpool fan, author of sports blog “Read The Game” and football enthusiast.

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