For the second season running, Olympique Lyonnais found themselves celebrating the Ligue 1 title in a hotel far from their Stade de Gerland home.
Out of sight
On Saturday night, on the eve of yesterday's 0-0 draw at AJ Auxerre, Gérard Houlllier's men were gathered around a television to see second-placed Toulouse FC lose 3-2 to Stade Rennais FC and in so doing confirm their sixth straight French championship without kicking a ball. Lyon are now 18 points clear of their nearest rivals RC Lens, who moved into the runners-up spot with a 2-0 win against Le Mans UC 72, and 19 ahead of FC Girondins de Bordeaux and Toulouse with five games remaining.
For a long time, it had just been a question of when rather than if with regard to the destiny of the Ligue 1 crown. As a result, there was not a great deal of suspense in the team hotel. "Some players were playing cards," said Houllier, who is approaching the end of his second season in charge of the all-conquering club. "Others were watching carefully but there was a nice celebration at the end.
"This title was secured when Kim Källström scored the second goal during our 3-0 win at [AS] Nancy [Lorraine on 17 March]. I turned to my team and told them: 'We're champions'. What makes me really proud is that six in a row is not only a French record but a European one as no team in the major leagues has ever achieved that. It's also a present for the president Jean-Michel Aulas, who is celebrating 20 years in charge."
Aulas was quick to add his own tribute. "It's fantastic," he said. "I want to thank Gérard and his team. They did an outstanding job." No team has ever won the title with five games still to play, but Lyon are eager to keep going until the end of the season. With 70 points, they have now set sights on surpassing their own record of 84 for the campaign, secured in 2005/06. Looking further ahead, Lyon are level with Stade de Reims Champagne on six titles and just four behind AS Saint-Etienne who have won ten times in their history.
Playmaker Juninho Pernambucano is one of four players to have been involved in all six championships, along with Grégory Coupet, Claudio Caçapa and Sidney Govou. He said: "
We consider ourselves privileged. After the third title I'd never have believed there were three more to come. Now it feels like quite a normal state of affairs, but it's a pretty nice achievement."
However, Juninho underlined that Lyon are far from content, having again missed out on continental glory. "We must remain ahead of the other French sides and close on the European élite. Maybe we shall take more risks to finally clinch the elusive Champions League. We have worked on next season for a few weeks and already have things planned. You'll see." Europe should keep a close eye on their televisions; a magnificent seven is on the cards.
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