In the city of the Lumière brothers, you don’t have to go to the cinema to see a remake of Return to the future. At Olympique Lyonnais (OL), the summer period is like a trip to the past.
This season, within the football club, Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso are reforming themselves, along with goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, into the “Lyonnais gang”, a nickname given, in the mid-2010s, to the core hardcore of the local Rhone team players – and a reference to the local mobsters of the 1970s, but more for the organized gang aspect than the robbery side.
On Friday, August 5, Alexandre Lacazette, a former Arsenal striker, provided an assist and scored a goal that allowed OL to beat AC Ajaccio (2-1) at the start of the 2022-2023 French championship season. Former Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso came on in the second half.
Both grew up 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 even more ” At home “ of his son who did not imagine it possible. “A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed it”admits the father of the world champion.
Even OL’s hiring manager, Bruno Cheyrou, talks about “Little Miracle” when he talks about these comebacks at the dawn of a season where the club is not qualified for the European Cup. “This shows his attachment to OL”points out.
In modern football, Ligue 1 – apart from PSG – is like an offshoot of the great English, Spanish or German teams: local talents are exported earlier and earlier, sometimes to clubs from the last three neighboring championships.
If they are successful in their careers abroad, the only hope of seeing these players return home is to wait until the end of their careers. And it is still necessary for “the love of the jersey” to be stronger than the “sports project” in the Gulf countries, in China or in the United States.
Here, it is not about 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 many years. But where it takes three seasons without stepping.
If the midfielder accumulated titles in Munich (five-time 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 for Gunners manager Mikel Arteta as it did for his predecessor, Unai Emery.
Transferred in 2017 for record amounts (almost 100 million euros in total), both reached the end of their contracts with their respective clubs at the end of the 2021-2022 financial year. OL jumped at the chance, not paying a dime in transfer compensation.
Local identity under the American flag
“We want the DNA of the Lyon formation to be the key word for the future”, announced Jean-Michel Aulas in an open letter on May 10. With these returns, added to the contract extensions of several “products” of the house such as goalkeeper Anthony Lopes and young midfielder Maxence Caqueret, the emblematic president of the club has kept his word.
He can thus try to appease his fans at the end of one of the worst seasons in the club’s recent sporting history (eighth place in Ligue 1, worst ranking since 1996-1997). Season also marred by various 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, attempted invasion of the field of play after the elimination of the European Cup in April).
“For the last three or four years, we have noticed a lack of participation in the field. With players born in Lyon, who grew up in Lyon and who have the club at heart, it is easier to achieve their 200% commitment to our project.Bruno Cheyrou says.
However, the project has a paradoxical side, because Mr. Aulas has chosen to highlight the local identity of OL while preparing 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 vice president, Mr. Aulas will continue to run operations.
A challenge for the new captain of Les Gones
“The players who have lived a strong history with their training club are still aware of the results, they have the club in mind all their lives. We always hear: “maybe one day I will come back””says Jérémie Sutter, a sports consultant at Score Agencies, a Lyon-based company.
Except that he 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 represents in particular Alexandre Lacazette.
Author of one hundred goals in all of Ligue 1 during his first seven seasons as a professional in his training club, “General Lacazette” (expression of a BeIN Sports journalist, taken up by the club) was at the top when he went to conquer the Premier League. There is a significant risk of undermining this image.
Both natives of the Rhône, “el General” and “Coco” participated in keeping the club on the championship podium, at a time when Mr. Aulas had reduced the air in signings in order to finance the new stadium. In the mid-2010s, until nine academy players could be lined up in an official match!
This team made in lyon However, he left an uneven 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 because of a certain… Peter Bosz, the current OL coach.
Yes he is “Quite rare that players of this level 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 holdup cannot be ruled out.
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