Everybody’s promise land

Aulas has stepped up to defend the club

Lyon is going through one of its worst crisis in the history of the club. Claude Puel is as popular with supporters as George W. Bush was at the end of his second term, and Jean-Michel Aulas is scrambling to save whatever can be saved. In the meanwhile, everyone is doing their best and trying to stay positive, highlighting how Saturday’s loss against St-Etienne was Lyon’s best game of the season. Amidst this giant mess, Lyon is getting its mid-week European breather, in Israel, against Hapoel Tel-Aviv, where the French club will try to forget about its domestic woes and try to remind everyone that they are the best French club on the European scene.

The club is badly in need of some breathing space, and this game couldn’t come at a better time. The matchup seems to be fairly uneven, which means that Lyon will not be judged on this game the way their performance was analyzed last week-end. What should – beyond reasonable doubt – be an easy victory will also be a good way for players to regain confidence in their abilities – especially goalscoring – and Claude Puel to comfort his position as the man the club needs to get out of this flunk.

Finding answers to what happened to the club, and why it is in crisis today, is not an easy task. The dynamics of a soccer club are mysterious and even the most enlightened of pundits will never have the answer. The French media is all over Lyon’s case, looking for a scapegoat (Claude Puel), waiting for blood to be drawn ( rumors of Marcello Lippi, Paul Le Guen or Leonardo taking over after Puel have aired) ; and the supporters are buying into this frenzy. Supporters’ discontent this season is in no way comparable to the tough time Lyon went through last winter, something Aulas has seized on by directly addressing a fraction of supporters who had stayed in the stadium after the game last Saturday. This moment, which some call as defining for the club, shows a great divide between Claude Puel – a mere operative – and Aulas – the history and soul of the club. Aulas’ support to Puel has been lukewarm (“everybody can be threatened”, “give the club a chance! Not Puel! The club”), and such response by the president is a first, when before he had never been openly critical of Puel.

There is a therefore a new divide within the club, between Aulas and Lacombe, and Puel and his staff. Puel has a chance to start bridging this divide tonight. Last season, he saved himself through quality play in the Champions League, and everyone in Lyon is wondering whether he will be able to do it tonight again.

The opponent is “only” Tel-Aviv, but big clubs are fine mechanisms that can get back on track as easy as they derailed. Had Lisandro converted his one-on-one opportunity against Bordeaux, maybe Lyon would now have 11 points instead of 5, Aulas wouldn’t be spreading himself thin in the media in order to reassure everyone including himself and the media would maybe be latching on Auxerre’s bad season. This is why Lyon needs a reassuring result tonight, a result which the club can build on and start putting this disastrous month of September behind them.

Puel has been saved by the fact that Lyon is playing games every three days, otherwise he might very well have been fired after Saturday’s loss. Losing to the arch-rival, whatever the manner and however stinking the referee was, is simply unacceptable for a club that badly needs to win in order to work in peace. Instead of that, supporters are putting pressure on Puel to succeed. He has repeated over and over that he can be counted on, but the real question is to know whether he can handle the pressure, which he wasn’t faced with in Lille but is learning to work under in Lyon. Aulas gave Puel an October 23rd deadline, when the brass of the club will convene to decide of Puel’s future. What is supposed to be breathing space for Puel will also double up as a laboratory to see whether Puel can work with the pressure that any coach will face in one of the winningiest teams in France.

If Puel wants to get the team back on track and save his sport, it starts tonight. Israel could then be the land of promises of a better future for every component of the club.

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4 Responses

  1. At least they won today. Can the take this “massive” win and convert it into Ligue 1 wins?

  2. Martin:

    I didnt realize how much I missed your opinions until now! I have to admit, Ive been concerned about you since Lyon’s stutter turned into a downward spiral.

    Im glad to see you still have faith (even before today’s win). Ive been shocked by the fan backlash. Suggestions by fans that the players should lose matches in order to force Aulas to fire Puel or boycotting games until Puel is gone – they seem like counter-productive strategies to strengthen the team.

    I’m unsure of how effective Aulas’ response to this situation will be. As you mentioned, his actions have created a divide between Aulas/Lacombe and Puel/his staff. Part of Lyon’s strength has always been a somewhat unified front and Aulas’ ability to shield the team with his own antics.

  3. Pas d’accord ! Pas de crise à l’OL…. Du grand n’importe quoi !

  4. I don’t agree, no crises !

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