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Olympique Lyonnais: 10 years, 3 losses

Colin Crawford is a museum worker with a well cultivated taste for the arcane and unusual. Buy him a cup of tea and he’ll talk about anything to do with soccer.

This season Colin is exploring Ligue 1, club by club. This week? Olympique Lyonnais.


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I’m going to go ahead and explicitly state the lede here and state for the record; Olympique Lyonnais are, without a doubt, the most dominant team in France in the last decade. Domestically they’ve been run close by Paris Saint-Germain in recent years, but they’ve maintained their stranglehold on the Ligue 1 Championship as well as developing a reputation on the European stage, rising to the top of the UEFA coefficient to be considered one of the leading lights of club football.

The team started in 1970 as FC Lyon, but didn’t have a league to play in for the first five years of their existence. The first division was instituted in 1918 under the auspices of the incomparable Alice Milliat. The early seasons were dominated by Fémina Sports Paris who won 10 league titles in a row between 1922/23 to 1931/32, at which point football was put under a blanket ban by the FFF and the league stopped. The league was resurrected in 1975 and the early pace was set by Stade Reims, who won five titles in the first seven years. Dynastic clubs came and went with some regularity over the years, with VGA Saint-Maur amassing six titles over eight seasons, and Marie-Ange Kramo firing Toulouse to four league titles in a row from 1998/99 to 2001/02, managing the league and cup double in the final season of their success. One team has been a perennial contender throughout much of the lifetime of the league, FCF Juvisy.

Based in a suburb of Paris, they won their first title in 1992 and their most recent in 2006. The six championships they won may not have been clustered together – save the three they won in four years from 93/94 to 96/97 – but this just reinforces how serious they are as contenders year in, year out.  Jusivy are remarkable for the fact they remain a semi-professional club despite the league as a whole adapting full professional status for the 2009/10 season. The club acts as a mentor for its players, working to find them employment or to support them in their studies so they can focus on playing football without outside distractions. The team is currently led by Gaëtane Thiny, who is the reigning player of the year, and was the club of choice for Sandrine Soubreyand, who played and contributed to Jusivy until retiring at the culmination of the 2013/14 season at the age of 40. Soubreyand has since taken command of the U-17 national team and her 198 appearances for the French team make her the most capped French player in history as well as being named a Chevalier of the National Order of France for her services to French Football. Juvisy were also able to provide a home for Marinette Pichon, the all-time top scorer for the French national team with 89 goals.

FC Lyon actually started winning way back in 1991, accruing a further three titles by the end of the 1997/98 season. The beginning of the club’s new era came in 2003 with the capture of the Coupe de France, the club’s first of eight. Then, in 2004, the club was officially taken under the mantle of Olympique Lyonnais and chairman Jean-Michel Aulas. Aulas is a controversial and outspoken figure who often comes under fire for the way he views his club as a business, but he took Lyon seriously (1) and invested early (2).  This started the cycle that has seen them grow to become the club they are now.

I’m going to state this very clearly, once again; Lyon are the most dominant French team of the last decade.

They’ve won the league ten seasons in a row and a total of fourteen times. They’ve won the Coupe de France 8 times, including the last five seasons on the trot. This success has bred success, as they’ve been able to leverage sponsorship contracts that cover the whole club and poach talent from the best teams in the rest of the league, as well as around Europe. As it stands, the squad is an embarrassment of riches, almost all of them being starters for their international teams. The French women’s national team that went to the Olympics in Rio in 2016 had a squad of 18 players. 12 of those players were signed for Lyon. Two thirds of the French national team turns out for Lyon week in, week out. In case you aren’t keeping track, that’s ridiculous. Of those 12 five of them have over 100 caps, Camille Abily leading the pack with 158 appearances for her country.

This core of elite French talent is augmented with some international stars. The forward Lotta Schelin was at the club from 2008 until this summer, when she moved to FC Rosengård in her native Sweden. Whilst at Lyon, Schelin made 168 appearances across the league and Champion’s League and scored 174 goals. Despite being the top scorer in two seasons, Schelin’s departure likely won’t hit the team too hard, as the summer saw them bring in more talent, including Caroline Seger – another Swede and bought from Paris Saint-Germain – and German international Dzennifer Maroszan. The two midfielders have over 200 caps worth of international experience between them, bringing even more guile to the central midfield alongside incumbents Abily and Claire Lavogez. Up front they have the explosive Norwegian Ada Hegdeberg who, at only 20 years old, scored 33 goals in the 2015/16 season to seal the top scorer title.

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If you’re still not convinced of this team’s credentials it’s worth looking at the raw numbers from their last ten seasons. In a decades worth of league play they have lost three games. Three losses in ten years. They’ve scored 1014 goals and conceded 62. Each season being 22 games means this averages out to scoring over 4.5 goals a game, and conceding only 0.3. Over a single season that would be mind-blowing, but over ten years, that level of domination is practically incomprehensible.

European competition had existed in one shape or another from 2001/02, before settling down into the more familiar Champion’s League format for the 2009/10 season. Lyon actually took a relatively long time to translate their domestic form to the continental competition. Their first two attempts at the title saw them fall in the semi-finals and in 2009/10 they made it all the way to final before losing out on penalties to Turbine Potsdam. The following year saw a new manager come in, Patrice Lair replacing Farid Benseti, who had been in charge since 2001. They emerged 2-0 victors with goals from Wendie Renard and Lara Dickenmann, besting their adversaries from the year before and capturing their first European trophy. They then did the unthinkable, going back and reclaiming the trophy in 2011/12 with another 2-0 victory over a German side, this time denying FFC Frankfurt. Eugenie Le Sommer and Camille Abily scored the goals in the final that confirmed their first treble. They had secured the League for the year and the Coupe de France just four days earlier. Lyon repeated this feat in the 2015/16 season. They beat Montpellier 2-1 in the Coupe de France final on May 15th, secured the league title over a chasing Paris Saint-Germain on May 21st, and then needed penalties to beat Wolfsburg to the Champion’s League title on May 26th. That’s a pretty good fortnight’s work.

It does look as if their hegemony is being challenged somewhat, as PSG have seen some of the money from QSI fall their way and they have begun to consistently challenge for the domestic title, as well as claiming a spot in the Champion’s League with regularity. Montpellier remain a strong side, able to challenge on a game to game basis, but unable to maintain a challenge over a full season, and too likely to lose their best players to the bigger two clubs. Jusivy are similar, a traditional power that looks like it may fade in the face of teams adding the support of men’s teams to their own, such as Guingamp, Saint-Etienne, and Marseille.

Le Monde had a very good roundup of the state of play of Ligue 1 heading into the new season, noting that more and more teams are becoming professional; a fact that is good for the league and good the for the national team. Having sad all that, seven fixtures into the season Lyon have won every match and have a goal difference of +45, so it would be fair to say that rumours of their demise is somewhat exaggerated. Eugenie Le Sommer currently leads the scoring charts with 10 goals, whilst Ada Hegdeberg is just behind her on 8. They have a Champion’s League game on Wednesday, taking on Zurich in the first leg of a Round of 16 tie, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to watch and bring you the report ahead of the international break.


  1. Not to mention his rather unseemly pursuit of Alex Morgan via his Twitter. At least he wants to improve the team?
  2. He continues to value the team to this day. According to Alexandre Lacazette in this interview he goes out of his way to remind everyone around how well the team is doing.

Thanks to Philippa Booth and Jeremy Smith of French Football Weekly and Andy David. Photographs from Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon

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