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Lyon Won 8 Straight League Titles, Now They're Rock Bottom

4 minute read Published November 16, 2023

For a decade Ligue 1 has been a one team league with PSG winning all but one title in the past ten seasons. Before that though… well it was already a one team league, just not PSG. It was Olympique Lyon. From the 01/02 season to the 07/08 Lyon won every single title.

That team was built by Jean-Michel Aulas who bought the club in 1987. For years he worked on improving the finances, transfer dealings, youth development and, most importantly, the sporting performance of the team. During his first years at the club they steadily climbed, becoming a mid table team in the first decade. But then, at the end of the 90s they got third. And then second. And then second again. And finally, the top spot. 14 years after Aulas took over, and they kept winning for 8 years.

During this time players like Benzema, Juninho, Essien, Malouda and many, many more rose to fame in the club. Being so successful in the league means you gotta set your sights higher, right? That’s what Lyon did. They started aiming for European glory. But this was stretching their squad thin, leading to them losing their consecutive streak of league titles in 08/09. They still haven’t won again. This is of course, partly due to one team investing unheard amounts into their squad.

Before the Season Started

This summer, Aulas sold the club to American investor John Textor. And it hasn’t been pretty since. Lyon sit absolute rock bottom of the French league. They have won just a single game all season. Combined with four draws and six losses it gives them a point total of seven in eleven games. How did this happen?

Of course, losing the stability of an owner who’s been at the club for more than three decades will have some effect. Just look at the circus around Manchester United and Chelsea FC. It affects everyone in the club. But that’s just the beginning of Lyon’s issues.

All clubs in France are required to submit a budget for the year to the DNCG, the organisation responsible for keeping tabs of clubs financially in France. In an unusual move, this budget was not accepted by that organisation and discussions with the new owner to solve the issues began.

In the beginning stages of the discussions between the DNCG and the club’s relegation was a real possibility. They ultimately required Textor to inject €60 million into the club and put restrictions on wages and transfer spending. Since then Textor and Aulas have had a very open fight in the media about who’s to blame, even going so far as to sue each other.

So, the season was in rough shape even before it started. Textor took over in June and, because of the deal he’d made with the DNCG, promptly sold or let go some of the club's biggest stars. Barcola went to PSG, Lukeba to Leipzig and Faivre to Bournemouth. They also lost Houssem Aouar and top scorer Moussa Dembele for free to Roma and Saudi. And Malo Gusto returned to Chelsea from where he was on loan.

That’s the core of the team, the best players left. In total the club sold players for over €100 million and bought for just under €20 million. That’s no way to improve the team.

Beginning of the Season

That’s where the club was at when the season started. Not an ideal situation. Sporting wise, it started out about as well as you would expect after a summer like that. They lost 1-2 to Strasbourg, 4-1 to Montpellier. Coach Laurent Blanc got fired only four games into the season, after they lost 4-1 to PSG. 

Former Lyon player Fabio Grosso stepped in as coach and although they did get their first win of the season just a few days ago, he’s been unable to turn it around for the club, only getting 2 points from his first six games.

There is some quality left in the squad but even then it’s ageing players. For example, Alexandre Lacazette who’s played eight games and scored three of the teams nine goals, Ainsley Maitland-Niles who came after his contract at Arsenal was up and Corentin Tolisso who joined on a free from Bayern last summer. But is it enough to turn things around? 

Final Thoughts

Obviously, the financial restrictions the club had to adjust to has had a great impact on the team. Losing all your best players in a summer means the cohesion in the group as well as the structure of play i lost. Not being able to replace these players means that even when the players get comfortable playing with each other, they’ll do it with lower quality. A team now made up of academy players, former superstars and free transfers.

Sadly, it looks likely that Lyon will be relegated to Ligue 2. The squad isn’t up to the standard of the French first division. This will of course be a huge blow to the fans as well as new owners. It’s unfortunate when the financial part of a club ruins the on field performance of the team, but that’s what happened to Lyon.

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