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Lyon: From dominance to the bottom of Ligue 1

As falls from grace go, the one happening to Olympique Lyonnais is as startling as it is unlikely.

The club that reeled off seven straight Ligue 1 titles at the start of the decade and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2019-20, now finds itself bottom of the Championnat and facing relegation to the second tier for the first time in over 30 years.

Relegation, not a word in the Lyonnaise vocabulary during decades of success both in France and overseas, is a 21/10 chance.

They started this season by failing to win any of their first ten matches to plunge to the foot of the table. They snapped that streak before the international break with a 1-0 win at Rennes but it wasn't enough to lift them above the likes of Clermont and Lorient, clubs who not so long ago Les Gones would have had trailing in their wake.

Fans have turned on the board as well as the players and the atmosphere at the Groupama Stadium has become increasingly toxic.

Just over three years since they were beating Manchester City to reach the last four of the Champions League, what on earth has gone wrong at one of France's biggest clubs?

Board-room upheaval starts the rot

If there is one name forever associated with Lyon it's Jean-Michel Aulas, the Rhone businessman who bought the club in 1987, rid them of their debts and transformed them from a second division club to one of the wealthiest and most stable clubs in Europe.

Aulas was Lyon, so when he decided to sell to American entrepreneur John Textor in December 2022 it's easy to see why concerns were voiced around the club.

The smiles and handshakes at the time fooled few people and it didn't take long for the barbs to fly, with accusations from the new board of past mismanagement as Aulas hit back at how his beloved club were suddenly falling foul of French football's financial watchdog.

And that claim was beyond dispute to the extent that Textor's first summer transfer window was hampered by restrictions placed on the club.

A club renowned for its financial prudence and good management was suddenly having to offload academy talents and not replace them. Two of their hottest young prospects, Bradley Barcola and Castello Lukeba, were sold for a combined £70m. Manager Laurent Blanc spent less than £12m of it.

Eighteen players left in the summer including seven on free transfers, among them Moussa Dembele and Houssem Aouar, a firesale that enraged Lyon's supporters.

Player exodus left huge impact

There is no doubt that events over the summer and specifically the club's transfer policy left the dressing room in disarray and the squad weaker.

Blanc was looking to rely on old hands like Dejan Lovren, Corentin Tolisso, Nicolas Tagliafico and Alexandre Lacazette with the handful of youngsters who were left, but immediately they looked unbalanced, short of ideas, low on energy. The summer had taken its toll.

They lost their opener, 2-1 at Strasbourg, and were thumped 4-1 at home by Montpellier six days later. A 0-0 draw at Nice stopped the bleeding but a subsequent 4-1 drubbing by Paris Saint-Germain cost Blanc his job.

Fabio Grosso replaced him and has struggled to halt the slide, drawing three and losing three of his first six games in charge before Lyon finally broke their duck with a 1-0 win at Rennes.

Former Crystal Palace youngster Jake O'Brien's 67th minute winner was the first time in 11 matches that Lyon had taken the lead in a game. It's also worth pointing out that Rennes played almost the entire game with ten men following Guela Doue's fifth-minute red card.

Signs of encouragement not easy to see

Grosso is already under pressure with speculation that Lyon are lining up a move for ex-Marseille chief Jorge Sampaoli.

Whether he, or indeed anyone, could get a tune out of this current squad is debatable, and that's the worry for supporters.

The sale of so many good players over the summer – and last January's window as well – has left Lyon looking like a depleted, bang-average Ligue 1 side.

Youngsters of the calibre of Rayan Cherki and Sael Kumbedi are winning plaudits which means they will be targeted, especially as Lyon are now known as a selling club. Textor has made sure of that.

You can have 16/1 that Lyon finish in the top six, a placing that not so long ago was no challenge whatsoever. Right now they look a million miles away from a top-six team and Lyon's fall from grace may not have finished quite yet.


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