Le Coeur de Lyon: What Does the Future Hold for OL?

Heart of OL

Another game, another win, it’s all starting to get a bit hum-drum and predictable for Bruno Génésio’s Olympique Lyonnais, not that anyone connected with OL will mind.

The defeat of Montpellier was a fifth win in six league games, a run that began by ending the unbeaten streak of the champions Paris Saint-Germain. The goals are flowing, the points are racking up and most importantly a campaign that threatened to peter out for les Gones now has purpose.

Second is a realistic target for Olympique Lyonnais with a mouth-watering clash against Monaco in the penultimate game of the season at the Stade des Lumières thrown in for good measure.

The contrast between the first half of the season and the second has been remarkable.

Olympique Lyonnais 2015/16
Hubert Fournier Bruno Génésio
League Games Played 19 14
Won 7 9
Drawn 5 2
Lost 7 3
Points 26 29
Goals for 23 31
Goals against 23 11
Win percentage 37% 64%

 

To paraphrase an over-used football phrase Lyon have had a season of two halves.

However if the best case scenario becomes a reality and Lyon finish second again, securing Champions League football in the process, the club will find themselves in a similar situation to the same time last season.

How Jean-Michel Aulas plans for next season’s campaign could have far-reaching consequences for the success of his club.

It could be a case of déjà vu all over again.

 

Life, Post-Lacazette

It’s the elephant in the room but come the summer Alexandre Lacazette is expected to move from Lyon. In that sense, it’s a good job that he’s found his shooting boots with 10 of his 16 league goals coming after the winter break. Given his form, it’s more than likely that he’ll break the 20-goal barrier again. He has already been linked with a move to Everton, Liverpool and West Ham and should Lacazette continue his hot streak then more clubs may come in for his services.

Financially, Lacazette’s scoring run will allow Jean-Michel Aulas to extract the maximum amount for any potential transfer and Lyon’s owner is not known for letting go of talent on the cheap.

However, the question remains: how will Lyon attempt to replace their star striker once he leaves for pastures new?

The answer is not as straightforward as it first appears. Lyon’s fine run has coincided with Rachid Ghezzal and Maxwel Cornet hitting their own respective strides.

Of Ghezzal’s six league goals, five of them have come after the winter break. The Lyon number 11 has also set-up his teammates six times, with four of them coming after Bruno Génésio took charge.

Like Ghezzal, Maxwel Cornet has struck six league goals, including a brace against Montpellier. Again his run of form coincided with the change in coaching set-up.

With Ghezzal and Cornet stepping up, the return of Nabil Fekir, the promise of Aldo Kalulu and the experience of Mathieu Valbuena, OL could easily cash in on their most prized asset for a princely sum and simply pocket the full amount.

The logic with this approach is that the sale of Lacazette will allow the likes of Ghezzal and Cornet to develop unencumbered whilst at the same time allowing Fekir to flourish in the role as the senior forward in the Lyon front three.

The very obvious counter to this line of thinking is that les Gones won’t be selling any ordinary player; they will be losing their most potent striking option. Beyond his goals, Lacazette offers clever link-up play, ball retention up front and leadership skills. To expect Ghezzal, Cornet or even Fekir to fill a Lacazette-sized hole is asking a lot.

Recent history suggests that Aulas will not splash out on a ready-made replacement. The last time OL broke the €20 million mark was in the 2010/11 season to sign Yoann Gourcuff and his time at the club was less than spectacular. The season before that, les Gones shelled out €24 million to bring in Lisandro López – the last time Lyon spent big on a seasoned striker.

More importantly, who could Lyon realistically target if the hierarchy do decide to spend on a top class replacement?  It’s hard to see any striker from Europe’s other big leagues moving to the Stade des Lumières.

The club may be forced to look at the Portuguese market, the lesser lights of Spain, Ligue 1 itself and other targets further afield to replace Lacazette. Don’t put it past Aulas though to place a cheeky bid for Michy Batshuayi!

There’s no easy answer to the Lacazette question and whilst his agent gave OL and their fans a whiff of hope that the striker may stay at the club next season, the issue will continue to hang around les Gones.

The Sporting Structure:

Olympique Lyonnais looked like a club in disarray following the departure of Hubert Fournier. True to his word Jean-Michel Aulas took decisive action and appointed Bruno Génésio as head coach. The decision was not met with universal approval with over 2,000 fans signing a petition to protest Aulas’ move.

That period of disharmony looks to be well and truly in the past though with Génésio masterminding a run that has seen Lyon power into second. Génésio ditched the 4-4-2 diamond formation that his predecessor favoured and instructed his side to play in a 4-3-3.  The change did not yield immediate dividends but with time he has turned the season around, with Lyon looking far more dangerous and incisive.

He has also taken advantage of home comforts, seeing les Gones pick up 19 out of a possible 21 at the Stade des Lumières.

Génésio’s biggest achievement though was to bring together a squad seemingly at conflict with itself. Under Fournier rumours were rife of dressing room divisions between the homegrown players and the new recruits. The bickering and politicking played a huge role in Lyon’s pre-winter slump and Fournier’s ultimate downfall.

To his credit, Génésio has managed to get the squad pulling in the same direction now whilst the major underperformers were sold off in last January’s transfer window.

If Lyon does finish second then Aulas will have a decision to make. Génésio, the club insider, enjoys a rapport with players that the floundering Fournier didn’t and has thus far rescued OL’s season.

The question is, is Génésio the long-term solution? During the post-Hubert hullabaloo, all sorts of names were linked with the head coach role at Lyon. Lucien Favre, Marcelo Gallardo and bizarrely Filippo Inzaghi were all touted for the job before Aulas opted to look within the club for a solution.

Now the club looks far more settled and can make a more informed decision. If second place is achieved again then it would be only fair for Génésio to continue and build on his success, a similar scenario to last season.

However with the likes of Rudi Garcia available it would be remiss of Aulas not to at least explore the option of bringing the former Lille boss to Lyon given the former’s relative pedigree. Indeed, there were rumours that Garcia would arrive in the summer with Gerard Houllier joining him as General Manager, though Aulas swiftly swatted the story aside on Twitter.

Given that les Gones had their fingers burned when they went with continuity last season Aulas may well be more circumspect before going down that route again.

Stick or twist?

In the end, it could all be a question of whether Aulas wants to go in a new direction or opts for continuity. If Lyon fade away badly between now and the end of the season, he’ll have relatively easy decisions to make.

However should the Rhône-Alpes club finish in the runners-up spot for a second consecutive season then he’ll have hard choices ahead. Does he trust the club to grow organically or will intervention be required to take les Gones to the next plane of achievement?

It’s a potentially dangerous yet exciting time for Lyon. If the cards are played right then who knows, perhaps another title tilt next season may not be an impossible task.

It’s just a question of whether Olympique Lyonnais decide to stick or twist.

You can read more from Thariq Amir at World Soccer Talk

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