When Jean-Michel Aulas took ownership of Lyon in 1987, as Bruno Génésio recalls, he promised that one day Lyon would be a leading European club and have their own television channel. Given that the club were in Ligue 2 at the time, and desperately battling relegation to the third tier, it was a bold claim. “Rather crazy,” says Génésio, a player back then.
Lyon’s TV channel launched in 2005 and if reaching the UEFA Champions League knockout stage nine years running from 2003/04 didn’t firmly establish them as a top European club, they have again shown their credentials this term. They have their work cut out against Ajax in Thursday’s UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg, but the campaign has had positives aplenty regardless of the outcome.
Génésio bristles with pride, a Lyon man through and through. He joined the academy aged six, remained on the books for over two decades and didn’t need a second invitation when the club asked him back in 2011, initially as an assistant. He is a fitting man to lead this second coming. Where once Lyon were built around talented imports, the class of 2016/17 is spearheaded by the academy.
“Our priority is to recruit promising young players from the Rhone-Alpes region and to complement the group with other players from different regions of France or abroad,” says Génésio, a Carlo Ancelotti fan who has used nine OL-schooled players in the UEFA Europa League alone this season.
It is, unquestionably, a talented crop but does putting so much faith in youth have drawbacks? “Consistency,” Génésio immediately replies. “That’s where we’ve come up short in Ligue 1 this season – we’ve lost games against weaker teams that have been battling for survival. Europe, though, has been an incredible journey.
“In the Europa League we’ve shown what we can do and how ambitious we are. The fact that it’s knockout football in Europe, where we have a clear goal over the two legs, has helped the team raise its game and be much more consistent.
“Lyon have never won a European trophy so we’d all leave our mark on the club’s history. It would be a fitting reward for the whole club and a president who said we’d win a European trophy one day when he took over.”
Lyon’s home-grown first-team regulars
Anthony Lopes, 26
Mouctar Diakhaby, 20
Alexandre Lacazette, 25
Rachid Ghezzal, 24
Jordan Ferri, 25
Nabil Fekir, 23
Maxime Gonalons, 28
Lucas Tousart (19) and Corentin Tolisso (22) joined at 17, 18.