Olympique Lyonnais is betting on its former glories to regain the heights

In the city of the Lumière brothers, you don’t have to go to the cinema to see the remake of Back to the future. At Olympique Lyonnais (OL), the summer season is like a trip back a few years.

Nowadays, within the football club, Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso have changed, together with the goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, part of the “Lyonnais gang”, a nickname given, in the middle of 2010, to the hard core of local players from the Rhone team – and a reference to local gangsters in the 1970s, but more for the organized gang aspect than the robbery part.

Friday August 5, Alexandre Lacazette, a former Arsenal striker, offered an assist and scored a goal that allowed OL to win (2-1) against AC Ajaccio, at the start of the 2022-2023 season of the French championship. Former Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso came on for the second half.

Both trained at the club, both went abroad and both returned to Lyon this summer, signing for three and five seasons. Vincent Tolisso is more than happy to return “at home” to his son that he never thought was possible. “A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed it”admitted the father of the world champion.

Even OL recruitment director Bruno Cheyrou talked about “little miracle” when he talked about these returns at the dawn of a season where the club did not qualify for the European Cup. “This proves their attachment to OL”he pointed out.

“Jersey Love”

In modern football, Ligue 1 – with the exception of PSG – is like a branch of the famous English, Spanish or German teams: local talents are exported earlier and earlier, sometimes to the bottom-of -the-table clubs. three neighboring championships.

If they succeed in their careers abroad, the only hope of seeing these players return home is to wait until the end of their careers. And still it is necessary that the “love of the shirt” is stronger than the “sports project” of the countries of the Gulf, of China or of the United States.

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Here, there is no question of early retirement. Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso return at a mature age (31 and 28), with the expressed desire to return OL to the Ligue 1 podium. Where the club, seven times champion of France, has been rooted for many years. But where he did not set foot in three seasons.

When the midfielder gathered titles in Munich (five-time German champion, winner of the Champions League), his repeated injuries prevented him from establishing himself as a starter in the Bavarian team. For the striker, voted the best player of Arsenal in the season 2018-2019, the current is not good for the coach of the Gunners Mikel Arteta, like his predecessor Unai Emery.

Transferred in 2017 for record amounts (almost 100 million euros in total), both arrived, at the end of the 2021-2022 financial year, at the end of their contracts with their respective clubs. OL jumped at the chance, without paying a cent of the transfer fee.

Local identity under the American flag

“We want Lyon’s DNA training to be the key word for the future”announced Jean-Michel Aulas in an open letter on May 10. With these returns, along with the contract extensions of several domestic “products” such as goalkeeper Anthony Lopes and young midfielder Maxence Caqueret, the club’s emblematic president kept his word.

Thus he can try to comfort his supporters at the end of one of the worst seasons in the club’s recent sporting history (eighth place in Ligue 1, worst ranking since 1996-1997) . The season was also marred by several incidents in the stands (bottle thrown by Dimitri Payet in a match against Marseille in November 2021, fight at the Charléty stadium in a match against Paris FC in the Coupe de France in December 2021, attempt to invade the pitch.after being eliminated from the European Cup in April).

“In the last three, four years, we have noticed a lack of participation on the field. With players who were born in Lyon, who grew up in Lyon and have the club at heart, it has become easier to get the their 200% commitment to our project.by Bruno Cheyrou.

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However, the project has a paradoxical side, since Mr. Aulas chose to emphasize the local identity of OL as he prepares to transfer the club to the American flag: the parts of the Pathé and IDG groups are almost to be sold by billionaire John Textor, future majority shareholder – now deputy chairman, Mr. Aulas will continue to direct operations.

A challenge for the new captain of Les Gones

“Players who live a strong history with their club in training continue to follow the results, keep the club in mind for the rest of their lives. We often hear: maybe one day i will come back””said Jérémie Sutter, sports advisor at Score Agencies, a company based in Lyon.

Except that it always remains in the realm of dreams. Mostly for financial reasons, but not only. “You must have the courage to return to your training club”continued Mr. Sutter, who specifically represents Alexandre Lacazette.

Author of a hundred goals in all phases of Ligue 1 in his first seven seasons as a professional at his training club, “General Lacazette” (an expression of a journalist from BeIN Sports, taken by the club) was at the top when he left to conquer the Premier League. There is a significant risk of spoiling this picture.

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The two natives of the Rhône, “the General” and “Coco” participated in keeping the club on the championship podium, at a time when Mr. Aulas cut wind of transfers to finance new stadium. In the mid-2010s, until nine players from the academy can line up an official game!

This team made in Lyon however, left a mixed memory, with prestigious victories, but also defeats in the derby against the Greens of Saint-Etienne and, above all, no title won. In 2016-2017, OL lost in the semi-finals of the Europa League, against Ajax Amsterdam by a… Peter Bosz, the current OL coach.

If he “It’s rare for players at this level to have the possibility to win titles in their hometown”, as pointed out by Bruno Cheyrou, this is the challenge of the new captain of Les Gones, Alexandre Lacazette, and Corentin Tolisso. In the return of the “Lyonnais gang”, a hold-up cannot be ruled out.

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