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The rise of Olympique Lyonnais: Part two

Published: Saturday 14 May 2011, 11.43CET
With both men's and women's teams flourishing, Olympique Lyonnais have become a real force in the European game. In the second of our two-part series, investigates.
The rise of Olympique Lyonnais: Part two
Michel Bastos longs for silverware in France ©Getty Images
Published: Saturday 14 May 2011, 11.43CET

The rise of Olympique Lyonnais: Part two

With both men's and women's teams flourishing, Olympique Lyonnais have become a real force in the European game. In the second of our two-part series, investigates.

Since claiming their first Ligue 1 crown in 2002, Olympique Lyonnais have continued to move onwards and upwards, establishing themselves as a European force by reaching the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League for eight years running. Although no more domestic trophies have been added since 2008, the rise of Lyon's women's team means there is still plenty for fans to smile about.

Lyon were so dominant domestically between 2002 and 2008 Jean-Michel Aulas soon started to raise the bar. The club's ambitious president wanted success on the European front and showed signs of frustration when his beloved OL were eliminated at the quarter-final stage three years running. Last season, however, they achieved a breakthrough, eliminating Real Madrid CF and FC Girondins de Bordeaux on their way to the last four.

The historic run was ended by FC Bayern München in the semi-finals, yet Michel Bastos still recalls the campaign fondly. "I have great memories," the Brazilian winger told "Getting to the semi-final of a competition like that is wonderful – not least as it was the first time for the club. Now we have a taste we want to go a step further. We're dreaming about getting to the final."

Bastos and Co will need to wait at least another year to fulfil that dream. They were eliminated at the last 16 this time around, Karim Benzema scoring against his former team in both legs as Madrid gained revenge. Claude Puel's charges have also fallen short in their bid for an eighth league title, meaning they have now failed to win silverware in the past three seasons.

Last summer there were high hopes when OL signed Yoann Gourcuff from Bordeaux for €22m, but the France playmaker has experienced a difficult transition. "It's different [at Lyon]," Gourcuff told "The rigours and the demands as far as results are concerned are higher. In Bordeaux there was more of a family atmosphere. Here there's an obligation to get results. That's the main difference. But we have great individual players and I hope we can achieve our objectives."

As the men's team continue to chase European club football's top prize, the rapidly-improving women's outfit are threatening to beat them to it. Defeated on penalties by 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam in the UEFA Women's Champions League final last term, the Fenottes have the opportunity to put the record straight against the same opponents in London on 26 May. In all four European entries they have never failed to make the semis and the first leg of their win at that stage against Arsenal LFC last month was watched by more than 20,000.

Lyon-based journalist Christian Lanier has witnessed the team's emergence and is not surprised they are challenging the very best. "The president wanted to make them one of the biggest teams in Europe," Lanier explained. "The team is almost the [French] national team. They are too strong for the other sides in France. They train where the men train, they often have the Stade de Gerland at their disposal ... they have everything they need."

The man in the dugout is Patrice Lair, who replaced Farid Benstiti last year. He has already guided the club to their fifth straight league title with 20 straight victories – and is hoping to ice the cake by winning at Craven Cottage. "I've tried to bring a little bit more from a tactical perspective, and I've also looked to close the gap between French and German football in terms of fitness," said Lair.

For the time being, the women are the ones making sure OL's trophy cabinet remains full, but their male counterparts are reluctant to play second fiddle for long. Bastos, who joined from LOSC Lille Métropole in 2008, is determined to get the club back in the hunt for silverware. "I'm happy to be considered one of the best players in France, to have started for my country at a [FIFA] World Cup and to be at a great club," the 27-year-old reflected. "But then I think I lack something. I need some trophies. My dream is to win a trophy here in France."

Click here to view part one, when examined how a side that had never won the French title before 2001/02 have topped Ligue 1 seven times since, establishing themselves as UEFA Champions League contenders.

Last updated: 14/05/11 18.11CET

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