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

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

This season, within the football club, Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso are reforming, alongside goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, part of the “Lyonnais gang”, a nickname that was given, in the mid-2010s, to the hard core of local players from the Rhone team – and a reference to the local gangsters of the 1970s, but more for the organized gang aspect than for the robbery side.

Friday August 5, Alexandre Lacazette, 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 the 2022-2023 season of the French championship. Former Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso came on in the second half.

Both trained at the club, both went abroad and both returned to Lyon this summer, signing for three and five seasons respectively. Vincent Tolisso savors the return all the more ” at home “ of his son that he did not imagine it possible. “A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed it”admits the father of the world champion.

Even OL recruitment director Bruno Cheyrou talks about « petit miracle » when he talks about these returns at the dawn of a season where the club is not qualified for the European Cup. “This proves their attachment to OL”he points out.

“Love of the jersey”

In modern football, Ligue 1 – apart from PSG – is like a branch of the great English, Spanish or German teams: local talents are exported earlier and earlier, sometimes to 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 very end of their careers. And still it is necessary that “the love of the shirt” is stronger than the “sports project” in the countries of the Gulf, in China or in the United States.

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

If the midfielder accumulated titles in Munich (five times 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 Arsenal’s best player of the 2018-2019 season, the current did not go as well with the Gunners coach, Mikel Arteta, as with his predecessor, Unai Emery.

Transferred in 2017 for record amounts (nearly 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, not paying a penny in transfer compensation.

Local identity under American flag

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

He can thus try to appease his supporters at the end of one of the worst seasons in the recent sporting history of the club (eighth place in Ligue 1, worst ranking since 1996-1997). Season also spoiled by several incidents in the stands (bottle thrown at Dimitri Payet during a match against Marseille in November 2021, fight at the Charléty stadium during a match against Paris FC in the Coupe de France in December 2021, attempt to invasion of the pitch after elimination from the European Cup in April).

“Over the last three, four years, we have noticed a lack of involvement in the field. With players born in Lyon, who grew up in Lyon and who have the club at heart, it becomes easier to obtain their 200% commitment to our project.says Bruno Cheyrou.

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However, the project has a paradoxical side, because Mr. Aulas has chosen to highlight OL’s local identity as he prepares to transfer the club to the American flag: the shares of the Pathé and IDG groups are about to be sold to 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 have lived a strong history with their training club continue to follow the results, keep the club in mind all their life. We always hear: maybe one day I will come back””notes Jérémie Sutter, sports advisor at Score Agencies, a company based in Lyon.

Except that it often remains in the realm of dreams. Usually for financial reasons, but not exclusively. “You have to have courage to return to your training club”continues Mr. Sutter, who notably represents Alexandre Lacazette.

Author of one hundred goals all round in Ligue 1 during his first seven seasons as a professional in his training club, “General Lacazette” (an expression of a BeIN Sports journalist, taken up by the club) was at the top when he set out to conquer the Premier League. There is a significant risk of undermining this image.

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Both natives of the Rhône, “the General” and “Coco” participated in keeping the club on the championship podium, at a time when Mr. Aulas had reduced the air on transfers to be able to finance the new stadium. In the mid-2010s, until nine players from the academy could be lined up in an official match!

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 certain… Peter Bosz, the current OL coach.

If he is “quite rare for players of this level to have the possibility of winning titles in their city”, as Bruno Cheyrou points out, this is the challenge of the new captain of Les Gones, Alexandre Lacazette, and Corentin Tolisso. With the return of the “Lyonnais gang”, a hold-up cannot be ruled out.

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