Let’s take a look at one of the most decorated French clubs in this brief history of Olympique Lyonnais:
Olympique Lyonnais, commonly known as Lyon, is one of the most supported clubs in France and the 6th most decorated team in France’s Ligue 1 (formerly called Division 1) with 7 titles, all of which were won consecutively between 2001 and 2008. The roots and the formation of Olympique Lyonnais actually dates back to the start of the 20th century but the club that we know today was officially founded on 3 August of 1950. Since then the club has spent the majority of its time at France’s top-tier (51 seasons out of 71) and has amassed a considerable amount of trophies and recognition in that time.
Based in the city of Lyon in Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes, Lyon’s rise to power and prominence started in the 60s and 70s but it was the takeover of Jean-Michel Aulas (the club’s president since 1987) that set them on the path to glory which saw them dominate French football in the 2000s and be a force in Europe as well. As expected of a club of Lyon’s size and stature, there are a lot to unpack here in regards to the history of this club. So join us and let’s take a closer look at the
history of Olympique Lyonnais
In order to make this an easier read, we have broken down the Olympique Lyonnais football club history to several parts including the different eras in the club’s history as well as its notable managers and players.
First let’s start with various eras of history of Olympique Lyonnais, starting from the club’s foundation in 1950 all the way to their absolute dominance over French football in the 2000s and then to their current state:
Originally formed as part of a multi-sport club by the name of Lyon Olympique Universitaire in 1896. Lyon Olympique’s football team was then formed in 1899 and became one of the 4 major clubs, mainly competing against FC Lyon. However, struggles within Lyon Olympique of whether going professional or staying amateur in the 1940s led the club, who were led by Félix Louot, to separate their path from Olympique Universitaire.
The struggle of going professional finally led to the foundation of Olympique Lyonnais, officially founded by Dr. Albert Trillat and several others on 3 August of 1950. The club then moved to Stade de Gerland and appointed its first manager (Oscar Heisserer) before playing their first match against CA Paris-Charenton which ended in 3–0 victory in front of 3,000 supporters.
Heisserer managed to get the club to First Division by making them champions of Second Division on their debut season however Lyon would yo-yo between the divisions in the following 4 seasons before getting back to the First Division by the end of the 1953-54 season. Heisserer then left his position and not long after Lucien Troupel took his place who went on to make Lyon a mid-table side in the Division 1 by bringing in players like Jean Djorkaeff (father of France legend Youri) and Jacques Fatton.
The first taste of success in the
history of Olympique Lyonnais
came when the club acquired two players who would go on to be two of their best players ever at the start of the 1960s, the Argentine Nesto Combin and the French striker, Fleury Di Nallo. Di Nallo and Combin’s attacking duo under the guidance of Lyon’s then-manager, Lucien Jasseron, guided the club to their best ever Division 1 finish (5th) in 1963 as well as helping them reach their first ever Coupe de France final the same year. They improved upon that record the following season by finishing as 4th in the league and winning their first ever Coupe de France in 1964.
However, Combin departed the club to join Juventus immediately after Lyon’s cup victory in the 1964 which would become the start of large scale exodus of Lyon’s established players in the following seasons. Olympique Lyonnais would see the departure of a few managers as well which were caused by their poor form in the league, although they did manage to win their second Coupe de France title in 1967 under then-manager, Louis Hon.
Hon then was replaced by Lyon’s former player and club legend, Aime Mignot, by the end of the 1960. Mignot brought with him a changing of the guard as well, introducing several youth players while achieving modest finishes in the league. with Di Nallo, now being an aging veteran who got injured quite often, Mignot decided to introduce an academy product by the name of Bernard Lacombe who would take over the goalscoring duties from Di Nallo. Lacombe was then paired with the amazing talent of Serge Chiesa in Lyon’s attack and the two led the club to its 3rd Coupe de France trophy in the 1972-73 season.
After finishing 3rd in the league for a couple of seasons following their cup glory, Mignot resigned from his position midway through the 1976-77 season due to poor results and was replaced by Aime Jacquet, who is now one of the greatest French managers of all time. Jacquet who had spent the previous two seasons at Lyon as a footballer, now operated as player manager for Lyon.
However, Jacquet’s time as Lyon’s manager, which lasted four years up to 1980, was mainly uneventful as the club struggled with relegation. Jacquet ended up leaving the club at the end of the 1979-80 season making way for Jean-Pierre Destrumelle to become the new manager of Lyon.
Lyon started the new decade with Jean-Pierre Destrumelle as their manager who brought the club legend Di Nallo on as his assistant but Destrumelle would only last a season at the club but he did manage to get Lyon to finish 6th in the table. That season Lyon also broke a Division 1 attendance record when they played againstSaint-Etienne
in front of the 48,852 fans in Stade Gerland, a record that would remain for years after.
Destrumelle also brought in a flock of players that would prove to be some of France’s best in the years to come including: Jean Tigana, Alain Moizan and Jean-Marc Furlan. But Destrumelle’s departure from the club in 1981 started Lyon on a downward trajectory. The club went through 4 managers in the span of 6 seasons and got relegated in the 1982-83 season. they would not play in the top division before the 1990s arrived.
However, Olympique Lyonnais’ fortunes turned around when a local businessman, Jean-Michel Aulas, took over as the club’s owner with plans of making Lyon an established Division 1 side that competed in Europe within four years. under Aulas, Lyon finished 2nd in Ligue 2 in its first season before Aulas brought in the former Lyon player, Raymond Domenech on as coach. Domenech managed to make Lyon Champions of Ligue 2 for the third time in the clubs’ history, earning a straight promotion to Ligue 1, where they would finish 8th in their first season back at the competition.
Domenech’s recruitment, helped by the former Lyon striker, Bernard Lacombe who was now the sporting director of the club, abled Lyon to gain a spot in a European competition by the end of their 2nd season back at Ligue 1. However, the season after that proved disastrous as the club finished 16th in the league (the club’s lowest league finish to date under the ownership of Aulas). Domenech resigned and another former Lyon player, the legendary Jean Tigana, was brought in to replace him at the end of the 1992-93 season.
Jean Tigana’s appointment as Olympique Lyonnais’ manager saw the arrival of several high-profile players including the 3-time African Player of the Year, Abedi Pele, and the likes of Manuel Amoros and Pascal Olmeta. They along with veterans of the club like Ngotty, Maurice and Gava allowed Tigana to make Lyon a genuine title contender by his second season at charge. However, Tigana would leave the club for Monaco at the end of his second season which prompted many of the players he brought in to leave with him, leaving his successor, Guy Stephan, with a rebuilding project before he even took charge of the club.
Stephan managed Lyon from 1995 till 1997 but his time at the club, despite introducing some youngsters like Ludovig Giully, was beset by injuries to his most important players which eventually got him sacked from his job. At which point, Bernard Lacombe who until now served as sporting director took over as manager and changed the whole atmosphere of around the club, giving more time to youngsters like Giully, who went on to have a breakout season in 1998, and bringing in players like Dhorasoo, setting Lyon up for an unprecedented success the likes of which had never been seen in France.
By the end of the 90s, Lyon was regularly finishing in the top half of the table and constantly getting into European competitions and yet, this proved to be a frustrating time as they were not serious contenders in any competitions. But that were about to change after Jean-Michel Aulas made serious investments on the squad by bringing in Sonny Anderson from Barcelona for a whopping€17 million
. But Aulas’ gamble immediately paid off as Anderson went on to score 28 in his first season at the club.
After Lyon’s third consecutive 3rd place finish in the 1999-2000 season, Lacombe departed as the manager of the club and the club’s technical director, Jacques Santini, took over the managerial duties. Santini brought in players like Edmilson and Patrick Muller and the club finished as the runners’up by the end of the season. Santini also managed to lead Lyon to its first piece of major silverware since 1973 when the club won the Coupe de la Ligue for the first time in 2001.
The following season however was to be an even better one as the Brazilian Juninho and the 2001 Player of the Year, Eric Carriere joined Lyon to make them genuine title contenders. The club suffered in cup an European competitions but the title race in Ligue 1 went all the way to the last week of the season, where they faced Lens in Stade Gerland and in front of home fans to battle for the championship. Sydney Govou, Violeau and Bak scored for Lyon to win the match 3-1 and Lyon clinched the Ligue 1 title for the first time in the history of Olympique Lyonnais.
This league title proved to be a turning point in the
Olympique Lyonnais football club history
as the winning mentality it set, would allow Lyon to overcome impossible odds in the league and clinch yet another title in the following years. a couple of weeks after Lyon’s first Ligue 1 title, Jacques Santini announced that he would his position to manage France and shortly after, Aulas assigned the former Rennes managers, Paul Le Guen, as Lyon’s manager. Le Guen’s emphasis on player development and the youth academy proved to be the exact thing that Lyon needed. Under his leadership Lyon became a giant in both French and European football.
During his 3 seasons as Lyon’s manager between 2002 and 2005, Le Guen signed youth talents like Hatem Ben Arfa, Florent Malouda andMichael Essien
. Players like Juninho became prominent figures in his team and Lyon went on to clinch 3 consecutive titles under Le Guen. They also became an important figure in Champions League’s new format, where they reached the quarter-finals stages for the first time in the club’s history, but they lost to Eventual winners, Porto, in 2004.
In the following 2004-05 season, Lyon clinched their 4th consecutive league title, this time by a large margin of 12 points. They also managed to top their Champions League group ahead of Manchester United and went on to dismantle the Bundesliga Club, Werder Bremen, 10-3 on aggregate before going out on penalties against PSV in the quarter-final. The season ended with Le Guen announcing he would leave the club and Michael Essien being named as theLigue 1 Player of the Season
, the first player in Lyon’s history to receive such an honor.
Former France and Liverpool manager, Gerrard Houllier took over the managerial duties at Lyon, inheriting a great team on which he made little adjustments by bringing in players like Fred and Tiago to strengthen Lyon even further. Houllier also promoted young players like Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa to the first team and made Juninho the club captain. Houllier's adjustments took Lyon to a whole other level as they became virtually unbeatable in the league in the 2005-06 season and went on to dominate in the Champions League as well, beating Real Madrid 3-0 in the group stages and reaching the quarter-finals of the tournaments only to be knocked out in the final moments against AC Milan.
Now that Perrin was gone, Aulas sought to bring in a manager that would stable things at Lyon. After a few names were tossed around, Aulas decided to bring in Claude Puel, who had experience managing Lille and Monaco in Ligue 1. Before Puel’s appointment as manager though, there were several new arrivals at Lyon as Hugo Lloris, Miralem Pjanic and Jean Makoun joined the club. despite a somewhat strong start to the season, the latter half of the 2008-09 proved disastrous as Puel’s team were knocked out of all competitions and after a horrible winless run in the league, they finally lost their grip on the first place and their run of 7 successive titles finally came to an end as they finished the season 3rd behind bitter rivalsMarseille
and champions Bordeaux.
Perhaps the only bright spot on Puel’s time at Lyon were the success he achieved in his second season in Champions League, where they eliminated Spanish giants, Real Madrid in the round of 16 and then proceeded to beat their rivals Bordeaux in the quarter-finals before being eliminated by Bayern Munich in the semi-final. This was the furthest Lyon ever gotten in the competition, something that they have only repeated once since.
But even this was not enough to stop the protests against Claude Puel, whom OL fans seemed to hate with the passion. And finally after 3 years at Lyon, Puel was finally sacked at the end of the 2010-11 season. Lyon’s downfall at the hands of Puel coincided with the emergence ofPSG
as a European superpower which meant that it was all the more harder to win the Ligue 1 again and in fact they haven’t done so since 2008. After Puel 6 managers have taken helm of the club: Remi Garde (2011-2014), Hubert Fournier (2014-15), Bruno Genesio (2015-2019), Sylvinho (2019), Rudi Garcia (2019-21) and their current manager, Peter Bosz who has taken helm of the club in the summer of 2021.
Out of all those managers, only Remi Garde was able to win any silverware when he led Lyon to a Coupe de France in his first season at the club and subsequently won the Trophee des Champions in the following season. they have finished as runners-up consecutively between 2014 and 2016 and have reached the Coupe de la Ligue final three times since 2011.
In addition to this, Rudi Garcia who took charge of the club in 2019, managed to lead them to Champions League semi-finals that very same year after they eliminated Juventus and Manchester City to then be eliminated by eventual winners, Bayern Munich, in the semi-final. the club also finally moved away from Stade Gerland in 2016 to settle in Parc Olympique Lyonnais which houses almost 60,000 seats.
Now that we have taken a brief look at the entire history of Olympique Lyonnais, it’s time to identify some of the key players in Lyon’s history that influenced the club in some big way:
There are several world-class players and genuine superstars in the history of Olympique Lyonnais but the club didn’t have any genuine superstars till the 1960s came around when the duo of Fleurry Di Nallo and Nesto Combin brought the club its first taste of success. Di Nallo would go on to become possibly Lyon’s best ever player in the 14 seasons he served the club. he helped Lyon win 3 Coupe de France and became the club’s all-time leading goal scorer by scoring 222 goals in 495 matches, a record that is unlikely to be broken as he is 88 goals above the second-placed Serge Chiesa.
Serge Chiesa and Bernard Lacombe were two players that took on goalscoring duties by the end of Di Nallo’s career. Chiesa has the record for most appearances (541) for Lyon as well as being the club’s 2nd best goal scorer of all time (134) despite being a midfielder. Lacombe, who would later play an important role in the club as sporting director and later manager, is 4th with 128 goals. goalkeeper Yves Chauveau and defender Aime Mignot are worthy of mention too as they both have over 400 appearances for Lyon.
Moving to the modern era, where the investment from Jean-Michel Aulas made the club title contenders and brought in world-class players like Sonny Anderson. But the most successful players in Lyon’s history and in fact in Ligue 1’s history were certainly Sidney Govou, Gregory Coupet and Juninho Pernambucano, all of whom have won a record 7 Ligue 1 titles. Juninho in particular was an exceptional player as he is among the 6 Lyon players who have won the Player of the Year award (Essien, Malouda, Benzema, Lopez and Lacazette being the other 5) as well as having the record for most direct free-kick goals in history by scoring 77 goals.
The club is also known for developing exceptional young talents who have become world-class players. Players like Karim Benzema,Alexandre Lacazette
, Nabil Fekir, Hatem Ben Arfa and most recently Houssem Aouar, which all have been a source of income as Lyon has shifted to being a selling club in the past decade.
In this last part of the
history of Olympique Lyonnais
, we’ll take a look at the club’s rivalries in Ligue 1. The club’s success, especially in the 21st century, means that they’ve had rivalries with different title contenders in France, like PSG, Lille and Bordeaux but historically speaking there are two main rivalries that Lyon is involved with.
The first one is the local Derby Rhone-Alpes between Saint-Etienne and Lyon. The rivalry between the two clubs have several layers to it, first is the cultural aspect of the Derby contested between a team from a mostly upper-class city of Lyon against the working-class culture of Saint-Etienne and second is the footballing aspect of it, where France’s former biggest club (Saint-Etienne) competes with one of the more recent superpowers in French football (Lyon).
Olympique Lyonnais’ second biggest rivalry is with Marseille and is called Choc des Olympiques (the Clash of the Olympics) or Olympico. This rivalry has been borne out of footballing reasons rather than geographic ones and were at its peak in the 2000s where both clubs contested regularly for the league title. there can be a case made for a similar rivalry between Lyon and PSG especially in the last decade since the two have usually contested for the league title during the 2010s.
Lyon won its 5th consecutive title and Juninho was named Ligue 1’s Player of the Season but Lyon had no intention of relenting as they had a similar year in the 2006-07 season as well, once again winning the league despite the departure of key players like Mahamadou Diarra and John Carew. Lyon won the league on the 35th matchday and Florent Malouda became the third Lyon player to become player of the season. at the end of the season, Houllier’s contract expired and he departed the club, leaving after achieving Lyon’s highest ever point difference over their rivals (15 and 17 points respectively in his two seasons), a record that is yet to be broken.
After the departure of Houllier, Alain Perrin was appointed as OL’s new manager who had just recently won the Coupe de France with Sochaux in spectacular fashion. Perrin’s tenure didn’t get off to a good start as Lyon lost nearly all of its most important players with Malouda, Tiago and Eric Abidal all leaving the club that summer. Perrin was a highly attack-minded manager that changed Lyon’s system to 4-3-3 and to offset the loss of key players in his squad, Perring started relying on young players more heavily, using Karim Benzema as his main striker and Hatem Ben Arfa on the wings.
Perrin’s gamble paid off and Karim Benzema went on to have a break-out season but the 2007-08 season was defined by the unrest at the club as several figures within the club clashed with each other and Perrin seemed particularly ill-equipped to handle the different characters in the changing room. Lyon ended up winning the league for the 7th (and last) consecutive year and Perrin managed to lead them to a Double as they also clinched the Coupe de France that season (the first time in Lyon’s history). However, because of his poor management of the squad, Perrin ended up leaving Lyon in 2008, despite being the only manager in the club’s history to clinch a Double.
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