Rhetoric can be powerful but it also can be a double-edged sword, coming across as bluster if not properly backed up. Lyon chairman Jean-Michel Aulas, who sold a controlling interest in the club to American businessman John Textor this summer, has never been one to mince his words. Having steered the club for 35 years, he has inevitably made the odd misstep, but their run of seven straight Ligue 1 titles in the 2000s and regular appearances in the knockout rounds of European competitions are firm evidence of his acumen.
On top of that, the club remains an incubator of top players. Their philosophy is to bring through youngsters who complement more experienced heads in the team, knowing that the young talents will move on to pastures greener and bring in funds for the club. Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso are good recent examples. Lyon also pick up players from other academies and develop them into first-team regulars – the idea being to help Lyon on the pitch as well as financially – think Ferland Mendy, Bruno Guimarães and Tanguy Ndombele. Recently, though, Lyon sides have featured as few as two or three academy graduates – players such as Houssem Aouar, Maxence Caqueret and Anthony Lopes.
However, last season saw the emergence of centre-back Castello Lukeba and right-back Malo Gusto, two teenagers who became key players. Much was made when Aulas declared that there would be “a return to the club’s DNA” this summer after they finished eighth in the league last season – their worst performance since 1996-97.
Some saw Aulas’s statement as a way of assuaging doubts fans had about the sale of the club. Even though Aulas remains the president and a key shareholder, at 73, his storied tenure was surely entering its final stages. The arrival of foreign investment has been disastrous at other French clubs lately – Toulouse and Bordeaux are the strongest examples, but the events at Marseille in 2021 show that even an owner with the stated aim of sporting success may not always be able to create a harmonious relationship with the club’s fans.
Lyon have moved away from signing older players this summer, which may be linked to Textor’s takeover but could also be a reaction to how badly the signings of Jérôme Boateng and Xherdan Shaqiri worked out last season. They have brought in Nicolás Tagliafico from Ajax, but most of their other moves have had a distinctly homegrown air to them.
The returns of Tolisso and Lacazette on free transfers have captured the headlines, but Lyon have also invested in their current stars, with Lopes and Caqueret signing lengthy extensions. On Friday, after Lyon’s 4-1 win against Troyes, teenage attacker Rayan Cherki added an additional year to his deal. Lyon’s summer is not over yet – Aouar, Boateng and perhaps Damien Da Silva could leave before the transfer window closes – and the club needs to sign another right-back but, on the evidence of their two matches to date, Aulas’s strategy looks to be paying off.
Tetê, the Brazilian winger who arrived on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk after the invasion of Ukraine, has been exceptional. He also gives the team a flavour of their past. Following in the footsteps of fellow Brazilians Juninho, Michel Bastos, Cris and Cláudio Caçapa, the winger made a bright start to life in Ligue 1 last season, scoring a goal off the bench to beat Angers. He became a regular starter in place of Romain Faivre as Lyon moved to a 4-3-3 and has been a livewire on the right flank, scoring five goals and adding seven assists in his first 11 matches.
His second goal on Friday was pure imagination, with a brilliant dribble and finish showing why he was given the nickname furacão, or hurricane. He has scored three goals already this season and Lyon’s manager Peter Bosz thinks he can do even better. “He has two important qualities – scoring and providing assists – but in terms of his passing he could have done better,” said Bosz after the game.
Lyon have won their first two matches and sit fourth in the table with a game in hand. Lacazette looks as sharp as he ever has, Tolisso is becoming a first-team regular and Tetê is playing with the strength of, well, a hurricane. With Reims, Auxerre and Angers up next, Lyon have a chance to grab second place and stay there. The title race in France is supposedly a closed ship – and the race for second may go that way too.
It has not been a good week for Nice. Despite picking a strong team for their Europa Conference League playoff against Maccabi Haifa on Thursday, they returned home from Israel empty-handed following a 1-0 defeat. There’s still all to play for in the return leg on Thursday, but their drab 1-0 loss in Clermont this weekend, when they had both Mario Lemina and Jean-Clair Todibo sent off, will have hardly helped matters. With just two points from three matches, and a visit from Marseille looming on Sunday, one might begin to wonder if Christophe Galtier overachieved with the team last season, rather than coming up short in the run-in.
Despite the departures of Cheick Doucouré and Jonathan Clauss in the summer, Lens look every bit as dangerous as last season. They won 4-1 at Monaco on Saturday. With Monaco, Nice and Rennes all stumbling at the start the season, Lens may finally finish in the European places that have eluded them in recent years – if they hold on to star midfielder Seko Fofana.
Finally, a word for PSG, who were facing arguably their strongest test to date: a trip to Lille, who seem to have bought well this summer and had looked impressive for long stretches of their first two matches this season. Playing Galtier’s former team was a potential banana skin, but the match was all but over within the first eight seconds, when Kylian Mbappé scored the first of PSG’s seven goals. It’s increasingly difficult to see where Galtier’s team will drop points.