Lyon's success of the last decade has been based on one of football's most productive youth academies — following the return of two of their most successful graduates, Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso, OL's future will also be built on homegrown talent.
Following the disappointment of missing out on European football last season with an eighth-placed finish, club president Jean-Michel Aulas called for OL to "get back to our fundamentals, to our OL DNA," adding: "We want the DNA of the Lyon youth academy to be the watchword of the future."
As so often, Aulas has followed up his words with actions in re-recruiting Tolisso and Lacazette. The pair return to the club where they made their names older — Tolisso turns 28 in August and Lacazette turned 31 last May — but they are also much wiser, and with valuable lessons to pass on to more recent youth academy-turned-first-team players such as Malo Gusto, Castello Lukeba and Rayan Cherki.
"I have more maturity, more experience. I grew up with a new culture, a new mentality and I have to bring this to OL," said Tolisso, who won five Bundesliga titles, a UEFA Champions League and a FIFA World Cup during his five years as a Bayern player. "I really think you have to rely on the mentality of Bayern. In Lyon, we always responded against big teams but against those lower down the table it was not always the case. At Bayern, regardless of the opponent, the motivation was the same."
It certainly would be a boon for Lyon to resolve what has undoubtedly been a long-standing problem, seemingly regardless of coach and personnel. Had they won all three opening games last season — against Brest, Angers and Clermont — instead of picking up only two points from those fixtures, they would have finished fourth. Further slips against Bordeaux, Lorient and Metz, who took four points off Lyon last season, cost the club UEFA Champions League qualification.
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"Despite the absence of European football, the project was more important than anything else. I felt needed in the locker room and on the pitch in this project so it was the best decision," is how Lacazette explained his comeback after five years at Arsenal, whom he captained on several occasions last season. "I have progressed in my leadership abilities; I've gained experience. It's in the back of my head the top ranking of scorers in OL's history, but it's not the priority. Above all, I want to help the club get back to the top of the league."
While there is no doubt that in the dressing room they can contribute to developing the sort of winning mentality Lyon had in the first decade of the millenium when they won seven successive French titles, Lyon fans can harbour justifiable doubts about the impact the duo might have on the pitch.
Lacazette, who brought up a century of league goals for OL just before he headed for north London, found the net only 54 times in 158 top-flight appearances for Arsenal, and struck just four goals in 30 Premier League matches last season. Tolisso featured in only 117 matches across his five injury-blighted years at Bayern, and started just 12 of the 22 appearances he made last term.
But imagine the benefit of Bradley Barcola, 19, and Cherki, 18, being able to pick Lacazette's brain about movement in the final third of the pitch, or new arrival Johann Lepenant, 19, talking to Tolisso about midfield play. This was undoubtedly part of the club's thinking in bringing the duo back to the Groupama Stadium.
Injury permitting, they also do still have what it takes to make a significant contribution on the pitch, and will certainly complete and complement Lyon's 'OL' spine — that DNA Aulas was talking about — with goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, Lukeba in defence, and Maxence Caqueret and Houssem Aouar in midfield.
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The man required to get a tune from them all is Peter Bosz. Previously, Aulas had also required 'OL DNA' of his coach, appointing men such as Rémi Garde and Hubert Fournier whose CVs bear a previous connection with the club. He has since broken the mould, but still expects Bosz to have his team play the Lyon way.
"The coach also has to be a guarantor of our OL values, we have to help him in this mission," said Aulas, who did see Bosz's team click into gear with six wins and one loss — admittedly a damaging one to Metz — in the final nine games of 2021/22. "We have to enable him to have players with an exemplary attitude and who are ready to open the door to those who are not in our Lyon mindset." With Tolisso and Lacazette, Bosz now has that.
So will Lyon roar into the new campaign? We should find out quite quickly whether or not the 'back to basics' philosophy is working as the 2022/23 Ligue 1 Uber Eats season fixture list has matches against newly promoted Ajaccio and Auxerre as well as 2021/22 strugglers Lorient and Troyes among the opening five games for Bosz's team.