The faith shown in coach Paul Le Guen by his chairman was repaid in handsome style this week when Olympique Lyonnais all but retained Le Championnat.
Aulas stood firm
When others were doubting Le Guen's ability Jean-Michel Aulas stood firm and his support was vindicated at Montpellier Hérault SC on Tuesday evening when Lyon as good as won the title with a 1-1 draw. It would take perhaps the biggest turnaround in football history for Olympique de Marseilles to catch Lyon as they trail by three points with an inferior goal difference of 20 going into the final game.
Hard work and humility
Le Guen's first trophy has been the result of hard work and humility while under no little pressure. He replaced Jacques Santini, the current France coach, at the start of the season after Santini had led France's richest club to the title. Expectations were high and in many ways his achievement outweighs that of Santini who won the title on the season's last day.
"Moreover, the pressure was higher," Le Guen said, "because we were title holders. But victory is nicer.
To win Le Championnat is the reward of a full year of relentless efforts. I am very proud of the hard work put in by the players and their togetherness. It is a relief, but moreover a reward. You need to be consistent. We were not at the beginning of the season but we finished strongly."
Lyon did indeed start the season poorly. They were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League in the first group stage, knocked out of the French Cup by the amateur side of FC Libourne Saint-Seurin and beaten in the UEFA Cup by Denizlispor of Turkey in the third round. However, Aulas' support was unwavering. "It was very precious," Le Guen said. "I remember his phone calls when we were eliminated by Denizlispor and Libourne. He has always been clear. It's important because it reinforces you in front of players."
First coaching honour
Although it is the 39-year-old Le Guen's first honour as a coach he was no stranger to trophies in his playing days. A former defensive midfield player, he won the UEFA Cup-Winners' Cup with Paris Saint-Germain FC in 1996, lifted the French title with the Parisian giants in 1994 and won the French Cup in 1993, 1995 and 1998 - the year he retired from playing after registering 450 top-flight games in his homeland and 17 caps for France.
Le Guen's first foray into coaching took him to Rennes in 1999, a season in which he steered the club to fifth place in the French first division. Expectation was soon heightened at the Route de Lorient stadium and Le Guen paid the price for not delivering the title in 2001 when he was sacked. However, after a year working in the media Aulas plucked Le Guen from the studio to replace Santini. His trust has been healthily repaid.
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