All falling into place? Lyon building foundations for big future
Gone are the days when Lyon were France’s dominant club, winning seven straight league titles in the last decade, and Tuesday’s last 16, first leg against Barcelona will be their first Champions League knockout match in seven years.
Unable to keep up with Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1, it would be a major shock if Bruno Genesio’s team beat the Catalans over two legs.
However, while ‘OL’ have no Lionel Messi, and their revenue last season was less than a quarter of Barcelona‘s — a huge 690.4 million euros ($780m) according to the Deloitte Football Money League — they are genuine competitors to Barca elsewhere.
According to analysis by the CIES (International Centre for Sports Studies) Football Observatory on the number of players to have been trained at youth level by clubs who have gone on to play in Europe’s five leading leagues since 2014, Lyon are right on the tails of Spain’s giants.
The latter helped France to World Cup glory in Russia, and a move at the end of this season seems likely, with Fekir set to follow in the footsteps of many before him.
Since OL last won the title in 2008, the list of youth products to have come through before being sold for big money is a long one — Karim Benzema, Anthony Martial, Umtiti, Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso to name a few. Youth development is vital for Lyon.
“In terms of youth development, we invest more than any other club in France by a long way — more than 10 million euros a year, and that is growing all the time,” said long-serving president Jean-Michel Aulas.
Keeping young players until their peak is not always possible, just as Lyon are unable to compete with Europe’s giants when it comes to buying talent.
Instead, they have been successful at signing gifted youngsters from smaller teams, notably Tanguy Ndombele.
Bought from Amiens for 10 million euros, the midfielder has broken into the France squad and could move for in excess of 50 million.
There is also cause for optimism regarding the future for the club, whose listed holding company OL Groupe is part-owned by Chinese investors.
In a country where, as a general rule, clubs do not own their stadiums, Aulas has overseen the construction of a privately-funded, 59,000-seat ground, the Groupama Stadium, that is among Europe’s best.
The club now plan to build an adjacent, covered arena for other events, with capacity for up to 15,000.
“Others invest primarily in players, while we preferred to start with the infrastructure and then build a competitive team,” said Aulas.
They already have Europe’s best women’s team — led by Ballon d’Or winner, Ada Hegerberg — and the Groupama Stadium will host the women’s World Cup final in July.
Taking the men’s team to the next level could be considered the missing piece of the jigsaw, and Lyon‘s aim is to “break into the top 20 clubs in Europe”, and hit the 400 million-euro mark in annual revenue.
A more regular presence at this stage of the Champions League is the aim, but can all that help OL beat Barcelona, especially with Fekir suspended on Tuesday?
“Manchester City are one of the best sides around and we beat them,” Brazilian defender Marcelo told AFP.
“Maybe this year will mark the return of the great years for Lyon in the Champions League.”