A club chairman announcing his ambitions of winning the UEFA Champions League would strike fear into many but Claude Puel is happy to set the bar high ahead of Olympique Lyonnais' opener against ACF Fiorentina.
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On taking charge of Olympique Lyonnais this summer, Claude Puel was instructed by the club's ambitious president, Jean-Michel Aulas, that his long-term goal should be lifting the one piece of silverware that continues to elude France's double winners: the UEFA Champions League. As if to cut the former LOSC Lille Métropole coach a little slack, Aulas conceded that a semi-final berth this season would represent sound progress, although Puel himself is setting the bar even higher.
"I would have preferred it if he [Aulas] said reaching the final is our objective," Puel declared ahead of Lyon's Group F opener against ACF Fiorentina. "When you start a competition you should always aim to go as far as possible." The 47-year-old's lofty aspirations are sure to please Aulas and may surprise some observers, yet Puel has never shied away from a challenge. Having won the league in his first full season in the dugout at AS Monaco FC in 1999/2000, he excelled over six years at Lille, twice guiding them into Europe's élite competition.
Expectations are inevitably greater at Lyon, who are making their ninth consecutive UEFA Champions League attempt, but Puel insists his approach remains unchanged. "If you want to progress in this competition you can't only set out to defend," he explained. "You need to find the right balance between hard work, desire and skill. I had good players at Lille, that's why we beat Manchester United [FC] and AC Milan. I have good players at Lyon, too, but it's a question of finding the balance."
Lyon have been eliminated by Italian opponents twice in the last three campaigns, and Puel is only too aware of the threat Fiorentina will pose. "Adrian Mutu and Alberto Gilardino are exceptional forwards, Mario Alberto Santana is also dangerous with the ball at his feet, and their midfield is hard-working and full of quality," said Puel, who could use John Mensah or Jean-Alain Boumsong as a makeshift left-back in the absence of injured pair François Clerc (knee) and Fabio Grosso (ribs).
While a 3-2 comeback win against OGC Nice took Lyon top of Ligue 1 on Saturday, their rivals arrived in France nursing wounds after a 2-1 reverse at SSC Napoli. However, Viola coach Cesare Prandelli is confident the special nature of the occasion will bring the best out in his men, with Fiorentina sampling the UEFA Champions League for only the second time following their 1999/2000 experience. "It was disappointing to lose to Napoli but that result has sharpened our focus," Prandelli said. "The important thing is that we learn from our mistakes."
The 51-year-old added: "This is an important moment for the club and I hope the players approach the game with great enthusiasm." Fiorentina's revival under Prandelli has been inspired by free-flowing football, although the coach acknowledges that they will need to show other qualities at Stade de Gerland. "You can only play attacking football when you have the ball and we know Lyon are very good at keeping possession," he said. "We'll have to work hard and make the most of our chances to attack."