Sunday, April 19, 2009

Olympique Lyonnais

Olympique Lyonnais

Olympique Lyonnais (popularly known as OL, or simply as Lyon) is a French football club based in Lyon. They play in Ligue 1 and are the reigning champions of France. They have won the Ligue 1 title seven years straight, a record that no other club in France has matched. Lyon have won seven Trophées des Champions, four Coupe de France, three Ligue 2 Championships as well as seven participations in the UEFA Champions League, despite not taking part in a final, or a semi-final. Olympique Lyonnais play their home matches at the 41,044-seat Stade de Gerland, Lyon. OL were also a member of the G14 group of leading European football clubs. Lyon was formed as Lyon Olympique Universitaire in 1899, according to many supporters and sport historians but was nationally established as a club on 3 August 1950. The club also has a women's football team with several international players in it.


Early history

OL came into existence after a disagreement between the rugby and football sections of the multisports club Lyon Olympique, which has existed since 1899. The football section split from the rest of the club and chose a new name: Olympique Lyonnais. This is why supporters of OL claim that their club was founded in 1899.

Before 1966, the club enjoyed some success; after being eclipsed by FC Lyon in 1908 and 1909, they won the French Championship in 1910. By 1920, they had moved into the Stade de Gerland, a stadium seven years in the making designed by Tony Garnier, a local architect.

Then called Lyon Olympique Universitaire, the club rejoined the professional ranks in 1942, and won the southern pool of the final wartime championship by two points from Bordeaux. The national final pitted them against Rouen, who triumphed 4-0. These successes propelled them in to Division 1 at the start of the 1945/6 season, but headed by Félix Louot the club plummeted back into to Division 2 by 1946.

The club would have to wait a further ten years until they won Ligue 2; their first established trophy, in 1951. However, Lyon were soon relegated back, after spending a season in the Ligue 1. A fresh new, rebuild team was formed by Julien Darui and in 1954, OL had gained promotion for the second time in five years.

OL enjoyed triumph after triumph in the 60's and the 70's where they won three Coupes de France, and a Trophée des Champions; taking note that five managers had joined and left OL at that specific era. However, the club had suffered a long period of drought and were relegated in 1983. The team underachieved and failed to retain any domestic trophy.

Jean-Michel Aulas - European aspiration

Jean-Michel Aulas took control of the club in 1987. Aulas invested in the club with the objective of turning Lyon into an established Ligue 1 side and also developing the club on a European level, within a time-frame of fifteen years he made Lyon one of the great sides in europe. Under the coaching of Denis Papas and Marcel Le Borgne, the club gained promotion to the top flight on two occasions, but unfortunately was relegated the following season on both occasions.

Raymond Domenech who was born in Lyon, was appointed as their successor and achieved promotion to Ligue 1, after a scoreless draw against Alès. Lyon were crowned champions of Ligue 2 for the third time.

Olympique Lyonnais first top-flight season under Raymond Domenech saw them finish eighth in the league, safe from relegation. Domenech managed a fifth place finish in his second season, which secured Lyon an UEFA Cup spot. European qualification was achieved after a mere two years at the top level, and only four years after Aulas' had taken control.

Domenech decided to leave after the end of the 1992/93 Ligue 1 season, after being selected as the new French U21 coach. Aulas' first choice replacement was former French international, Jean Tigana. He was part of the celebrated 'Magic Diamond', along with Michel Platini, Luis Fernández and Alain Giresse. Tigana developed the Lyon side into genuine French Ligue 1 title contenders, with the emergence of new players such as Abédi Pelé. Tigana was forced to leave the club in 1995 after serious media pressure.

Guy Stéphan took in charge in 1995 following the exit of Tigana and helped Lyon assure a place in European competition, once more through the 'back-door' system of the Intertoto Cup. Stéphan resigned at the start of the new season, and Bernard Lacombe was placed as manager immediately. 'OL' were achieved a place in the UEFA Cup, but failed to make it through to the Third round after losing to Inter Milan, eventual winners of the tournament. The club's league positions continued to rise at the final stages of the 20th century - sixth in 1998 and third in 1999 and 2000.

Success after success

Olympique Lyonnais have dominated the top French level, Ligue 1, in the early years of the 21st century. After their second-place finish in 2001, OL have won seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles (2002-2008), becoming the first club in French history to do so. Lyon's European ambitions have meanwhile never been realised beyond the quarter-finals of the Champions League, however.

The club has attracted many top level coaches, each successful in different competitions and areas of the field.

Jacques Santini was appointed in 2000 after leaving his position at FC Sochaux. Santini quickly restored the team and in 2001, Lyon had won Coupe de la Ligue (League Cup), which surprisingly was the club's first major silverware since the 1973 Coupe de France win. He also steered the side to a top-two finish and Lyon, therefore qualified for the UEFA Champions League in second place. Santini was still not popular with the fans for his defensive approach to the game.

In 2002, Santini went one better and guided Lyon to their first ever Ligue 1 title, after a win against Lens. It still didn't convince the majority of Lyon supporters that he was the right man, after suffering an early knockout in the Champions League, and a fortnight after the win, Santini announced his resignation with Lyon. He opted for the France national football team.

The man who was responsible for delivering three consecutive league titles with Lyon was former Rennes manager Paul Le Guen. Le Guen was highly noted for grooming players such as El Hadji Diouf at his time at Rennes, but he was feared as another failure, according to much of the press.

He undoubtedly proved them wrong, and Lyon had improved in Ligue 1 and in the Champions League. Despite finishing third in the Champions League group stages, Lyon were only knocked out due to the goal against rule, which had meant that Lyon were placed in the UEFA Cup. Lyon lost to Turkish side, Denizlispor after drawing at home. Le Guen won the league once more by one point.

Le Guen's second season saw Lyon win their third title and second during his reign. Lyon were also top of their group in the Champions League, despite the threat of previous winners, Bayern Munich. The team had beaten Real Sociedad in the round of 16, but their luck ran out against Porto, who ultimately won the competition.

The club had won the league for a fourth time by a majority margin, but were knocked out of the Quarter-finals in the Champions League, yet again. It had looked like Lyon were going to cruise through the semi-finals, after trashing German opponents Werder Bremen, 10-2 on aggregate. They were cruelly knocked out on penalties by PSV and left Lyon fans waiting another year for a Champions League final.

A night after Lyon's league success, Le Guen resigned from his position as manager. The news surprised OL fans, who thought that Le Guen would sign a contract extension, and commit himself to the club. He was offered a three-year extension, but decided to leave and be proud of his achievements.

Gérard Houllier, former Liverpool manager who had guided the side to a Cup Treble success in 2001, was appointed as the current Lyon boss in 2005, after the resignation of Le Guen. He had inherited a worthy championship side, with the likes of Juninho, Sylvain Wiltord, Sidney Govou, Florent Malouda and Grégory Coupet. He placed Juninho as captain and brought Portuguese international Tiago to the club from Chelsea, in a part-exchange deal for Michael Essien.

In his first full season, he had guided the side to a fifth consecutive league title but failed to make an impact in the Champions League, after crashing out to Milan at the San Siro. It was their third consecutive Quarter-final appearance in the Champions League. Lyon won the title after Lille's win against Bordeaux.

Houllier was recently successful in signing French U21 international, Jérémy Toulalan from Nantes as well as Swedish play-maker, Kim Källström from Rennes. Gérard however, lost the services of Mali's Mahamadou Diarra who had agreed a five-year contract with Real Madrid, worth up to 25 million. In order to replace Mahamadou Diarra, Gérard signed another French international Alou Diarra from RC Lens.

Yet despite a triumphant season debut, in which Lyon thrashed championship challengers Olympique de Marseille 1-4 and RC Lens 0-4 and scored 50 points in the first part of the season alone, Lyon didn't recover from the winter break and lost or drew nearly all the matches in January, including the Coupe de France knockout against Marseille. They managed to regain confidence by beating rivals St. Etienne 1-3, but were not in their autumn form and were decisively beaten by Roma at Gerland, thus being eliminated from the Champions League.

During the 2007-2008 season, Lyon changed their coach, signing in Alain Perrin from Sochaux. They also recruited Italian World Champion Fabio Grosso, as well as Mathieu Bodmer and Abdulkader Keita from Lille. The season started badly, with defeats against Toulouse and Lorient, as well as important players such as Coupet and Cris being injured. The UEFA Champion's league campaign started in disaster, with two humiliating defeats against FC Barcelona (3-0) and Glasgow Rangers (0-3). These difficulties were due to a lack of defensive discipline (because of the absence of Cris and Coupet), and because of Alain Perrin 4-4-2 system, to which the players weren't used to.

However, the team managed to maintain itself in first place, thanks to fantastic performances by Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa. Lyon qualified for the next stage in the Champion's League thanks to wins against Stuttgart (0-2 and 4-2) and Glasgow Rangers at Ibrox Park (0-3).

The season was marked by some erratic performances, and by a much less marked domination ; Bordeaux emerged as serious contenders for the title. The League was decided on the final day : if Lyon lost against Auxerre and Bordeaux won against Lens, Bordeaux would be champion. However, the inevitable Benzema scored a goal (his twentieth that season in L1) a mere 24 seconds after kick-off, followed by goals from Fred and Källstrom, securing the League for Lyon.

Olympique Lyonnais also managed to win the Coupe de France, for the first time in more than 30 years, with a 1-0 (goal scored by Sidney Govou) win in extra-time against Paris Saint-Germain.

Supporters and rivals

Olympique Lyonnais has a highly-active and loyal fan-base, in Lyon. Lyon's fans, known as the "Bad Gones", have gained a strong reputation in Europe, due to their control of Ligue 1 as well as their appearances in the Champions League. The Stade de Gerland is frequently sold out in the majority of their home European and League matches.

Lyon has a healthy rivalry with fellow side Saint-Étienne, the derby, often referred to as the Derby du Rhône (Rhône derby), between these two neighbouring Arpitan cities, the "rich and the workers'", "the newly most successful French club and the former biggest French club", is one of the highlights in Ligue 1. Monaco, Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain have been Lyon's secondary rivals, and in recent years Lille and Lens have posed threats.

Major honours