“At OL, a president in early retirement, a distant owner and some doubts about the exit from a turn”

ACall it a revolution in continuity. A thirty-five-year era ended for Olympique Lyonnais (OL) with its takeover in June by American investor John Textor. Jean-Michel Aulas, president since 1987, remains so for at least another three years, depending on the commitment of the new owner.

OL, which begins the 2022-2023 Ligue 1 season by hosting Ajaccio on Friday August 5 (9 p.m.), is rocking in the waters of the financial globalization of football, and is therefore entering this new age with its former boss, after a failed season and while “JMA” no longer holds the bar with the same success for a few years.

The choice of a gradual transition is understandable, however. Rarely has a club been so intimately identified with its president, sole master on board, omnipresent in the media and the only true Lyon star of these three and a half decades, far ahead of any player.

Crisis of governance, crisis of passion

The club’s valuation of 800 million euros alone signifies his success at the head of OL. The amount is exceptional for a French club, excluding PSG: Olympique de Marseille was bought by a compatriot of John Textor, Frank McCourt, for 45 million in 2016.

To financial rigor and an intelligent sports policy, Jean-Michel Aulas added the development of infrastructures, of which the great stadium of Décines-Charpieu is the flagship. The quality of Lyon’s training is no longer to be proven, and the women’s section reigns over Europe with its eight Champions Leagues.

However, since the national supremacy of the 2000s (seven national titles in a row), the view of the leader has withered. Devoid of any trophy since 2012, the men’s OL have won the European elite to which they aspired some fifteen years ago.

Last season ended in eighth place in Ligue 1 for OL, the worst ranking since 1997, without qualifying for a European Cup. It was marked by the unexpected resignation of Juninho from his position as sporting director, by the failure of the recruitment of certain players and by that of the new coach, Peter Bosz, to put the team back on track, not to mention several serious incidents in the stands.

The accounting indicators are not enough for the happiness of the supporters, the divorce with the president has widened to already unconditional fringes of the public. The crisis of governance is also a crisis of passion, and the legendary Aulassian bad faith no longer deludes us.

At least, the returns this summer of Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso, at the end of the contract respectively at Arsenal and Bayern, flatter the local fiber. Argentinian international Nicolas Tagliafico is strengthening an attractive squad – subject to possible departures – which Peter Bosz, who is retained, will have the duty to make better use of.

Du Aulas in the Textor

At the time of summer promises, we must add that of a substantial investment in transfers, for nearly 90 million euros. In the medium term, John Textor aims for nothing less than to compete with PSG and grab the national title.

If the degree of his future presence in Lyon and in the French media is not known, his personality announces some shards. For having joked about the “PSG Academy” open to the world, The Team from 1uh August, he has already provoked the official wrath of the Parisian club.

However, he promises to scrupulously delegate all sporting decisions until he knows Ligue 1 better. “bringing a new economy into the landscape”he evokes the “sports entertainment concept”. From Aulas in the Textor, so far.

The discourse becomes more esoteric when it places its contribution on the side of development tracks: “I don’t like to run companies, I’m like the crazy disruptive, provocative uncle”, he explained in the sports daily. It relies in particular on the development of lucrative applications.

For a little, one would suspect of illusionism this businessman who practiced in special effects then holograms (today in facial recognition, whose profitability he boasts compared to that of a football club). Let’s put it down to enthusiasm, and forget the doubts about the exact amount of his fortune.

If this historic turning point is enough to rekindle the flame of Lyon, this ambivalent management, with a president in early retirement and a remote owner, leaves some doubts hanging over the exit from the turn. It will be time, later, to distinguish between revolution and continuity.

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