Olympique Lyonnais coach Claude Puel suffered mixed emotions on Sunday after securing third place in Ligue 1 while condemning the club of his heart, AS Monaco FC, to relegation from the top flight.
While champions LOSC Lille Métropole and Olympique de Marseille had already sealed the first two positions – and UEFA Champions League group stage berths – before Sunday's concluding matches, third-placed Lyon led Paris Saint-Germain FC by only two points at kick-off. Third-bottom Monaco, meanwhile, hosted the Stade de Gerland outfit knowing their 34-year stay in Ligue 1 was under threat.
The principality side's worst fears were realised by Lyon goals from Pape Diakhaté and Lisandro, rubber-stamping a victory which ensured that Puel took Lyon into Europe's premier club competition for the 12th successive season. However, it came at the cost of the team he had led to the French title in 2000 – and for whom he played almost 500 games.
"I'm sad for Monaco," said the 49-year-old, "but it required many permutations for them to stay in the top flight. I hope they come back very soon." The last time the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League finalists went down was June 1976, though they made an immediate return and won the third of their seven Ligue 1 crowns in 1978.
Such past resolve was no consolation to current coach Laurent Banide, who struggled to fight back the tears in front of the media after Monaco's demise was confirmed. "My thoughts are with everyone who has expressed their sympathy, all the people who love the club," he said. "I am very disappointed, very distressed. It's a big loss to French football. Being relegated with 44 points is even harder to take."
In contrast, Lyon, who will appear in the UEFA Champions League play-offs, could scarcely have been happier after the culmination of a tough campaign. "Everyone is relieved the season is over," Puel said. "We hurt ourselves with a very bad start [Lyon were 18th in late September]. It generated lots of tension and lots of pressure on everybody. In such an atmosphere, it's good to grab third place."
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