OL Pride: Youthful Lyon Ready to Roar Again
While Monaco picked up ten players before the rest of the league had had a chance to even bookmark the LFP transfer page, and Marseille are shedding last season’s first team like they’ve got some form of bet on, things are a little bit different at the Stade Gerland.
Yes, they’ve picked up Claudio ‘Air’ Beauvue from Guingamp and Jeremy ‘Free’ Morel from Marseille, and are shopping around for a centre-back, but as ever, it seems that reinforcements will come from within. Sixteen of the current squad of 27 came up from Lyon B, and they currently have a tag on their website, ‘les nouveaux visages‘, profiling some of the homegrown players who will be looking to break through in the next few seasons. Their Academy also recently ranked first in France for the third year in a row. To this end, the departure of Fares Bahlouli to Monaco seemed slightly out of character (more familiar is the loan of his fellow Toulon-winner Louis Nganioni to Utrecht) – although they have given a training contract to his 15-year-old brother, Mohamed.
Lyon’s transfer strategy looks mostly like building high walls around those home-grown stars who are most at risk of interest from overseas leagues who maybe don’t quite appreciate what they are interested in. Most of this focus is, naturally, on Alexandre Lacazette, and whether he will be tempted away from Lyon by a ‘step up’. Given that OL came second in the league, spent ten weeks at the top of the table, and will have Champions League this season, some leagues / clubs seem to be thinking a little too little of Lyon. WhoScored ranked him third in Ligue 1 last season (behind Zlatan and Aston Villa’s new acquisition Jordan Amavi) and 16th in the top five European leagues. While Lyon fans can be sure that they won’t see their starlet go for peanuts, there is the possibility of a move if a big enough offer comes in to satisfy Jean-Michel Aulas – one of the few Ligue 1 Presidents to work in ‘Premier League money’.
A similar, if slightly more esoteric for foreign clubs, situation surrounds occasionally-chippy-ego-who-needs-to-prove-he-can-do-this-consistently Nabil Fekir (if this were a Robert Ludlum novel, it would be ‘The Thauvin Quandary‘). His 15 goals and 13 assists (all competitions) in 39 appearances won him a senior call-up for France in March, and his contract runs to 2020 after a recent extension.
Not content with ensuring that these two key players are retained, or cashed in only for silly money, OL/Aulas also need to keep an eye on several other academy graduates, including Samuel Umtiti, Clinton N’Jie and FFW favourite Corentin Tolisso, who also recently extended to 2020. Yassine Benzia’s contract came to an end on 30 June, but he seems to be sticking around – unlike two other players who have the sad tag ‘f.c.’ (fin de contrat) after their names – occasionally calamitous defender Mahamadou Dabo, and the man, the mystique, the melancholy (the mascara? ed.), Yoann Gourcuff.
So, mostly brinksmanship from OL, as in many other seasons. In fact, the most dynamic moves at the club relate to the women’s team, where the departures of Elise Bussaglia and Lara Dickenmann to Wolfsburg are being leavened by the arrivals of (deep breath) French internationals Claire Lavogez from Montpellier, Griedge Mbock Bathy from Guingamp (for a record fee), Aurelie Kaci (back from) PSG, and German international Pauline Bremer from Turbine Potsdam. The Division 1 title-holders (nine in a row now) are not going to give in to financial powerhouse PSG without a fight, having had a nasty shock when the capital club knocked them out of the Women’s Champions League last season.
OLF have Camille Abily and Amandine Henry in midfield, but neither can really cover Bussaglia’s ‘taking names’ role; similarly there seems no replacement for Dickenmann, one of OL’s most potent attacking threats from right-back, charging in behind Elodie Thomis. Corine Petit (previously Franco) may step in there but maybe doesn’t have the same scary burst forward that the Swiss international had. There have been some internal promotions from the youth team (including the Cascarino twins, Estelle the leftback and Delphine the attacking midfielder) but while Mbock will augment already impressive central defensive options, the other players coming in are more traditionally attacking than defensive.
It will be interesting to see if this means that Gérard Precheur sticks to his strategic guns, or institutes a change, now that Farid Benstiti’s PSG have shown themselves capable of winning by containing opponents rather than just overwhelming them in attack. If the latter, this can only bode well for an OLF team who can run riot over domestic opposition but struggle against the best teams in European competition (see also, the national team’s ongoing issues with conversion and concession).
Both Men’s and Women’s Champions Leagues will therefore feature PSG and OL, and while PSG had the best of last season on both fronts, OL will at least kick back hard in the women’s edition this season. What the men can manage will depend on what happens with those two key players as the transfer window edges shut.