Olympique Lyonnais won their seventh Champions League title on Sunday much to the frustration of opposition fans. This is often the case when you consistently win trophies. But Lyon should be celebrated for their success not hated for it.
President Jean-Michel Aulas invested when it was uncertain what the future would be for women’s football and Lyon continue to see the benefit of his commitment today. This is not an astronomical fee by any means. Their €10m budget pales in comparison to how much some of the giants of football spend on a single player.Embed from Getty Images
With their wealth and trophy cabinet, the French champions have garnered something of a ‘glory seeking’ reputation. This is a simplistic point of view that does not do the team nor their ideals justice. What makes Lyon an illustrious club that appeals to players? Why do they continue to be so successful? How can they continue their dominance when teams are catching up to them?
Lyon do not just buy stars, they make them
It all begins with their Academy which provides the boys and girls teams with equal resources. Academy director Sonia Bompastor has spoken of the aid offered to the girls. This includes hypnotherapy sessions focused on tackling internalized misogyny to combat sexism, allowing the girls to meet their full potential. It is considerations like this that show the devotion Lyon have to being the best.
Around a third of Lyon’s senior squad have been developed by the club, from star player Amel Majri to wonderkid Selma Bacha. Lyon’s youth intake is then supported by scouting domestic talent. Griedge Mbock signed from Guingamp for a record D1 fee of approximately €100,000. Recently the side have enticed Vicki Becho and Alice Sombath away from PSG’s academy. Becho cited Lyon’s facilities as what compelled her to join.Embed from Getty Images
A team chock full of glory seeking international superstars? Not quite. Even in positions currently held by world class talent there are academy products waiting in the wings. Manon Revelli at right back, Melvine Malard up front… Everything appears to have fallen into place for the Lyonnaises, but their continued success is not something they take for granted.
A winning mentality
Lucy Bronze dispelled any suggestion of complacency, with the defender highlighting the difficulty to focus on numerous competitions at once. “It’s hard to keep your focus and drive in every single game, but that’s the expectation at Lyon.”
This was exemplified in their 3-8 victory over Reims last year. Though winning with a five goal buffer the performance was met with frustration. Coach Jean-Luc Vasseur critiqued the performance as being “messy” and midfielder Amandine Henry insisted they had to be better focused to prevent conceding.Embed from Getty Images
Through their bespoke Academy and proactive recruitment, Lyon present the world of women’s football a blueprint for success. For any team though, there will always be a questionable transfer here or a player who had a bad experience there. This appeared to be the case for Izzy Christiansen, who departed the club for Everton in December.
‘They don’t care as long as they win’
Christiansen gave an interview which spoke at length about various factors affecting her time in Lyon, from learning French late to her own doubts. By the end of her stay she claims to have made friends for life despite initial difficulty. However, critics of the club focus on the comments made about the players.
“[Lyon] don’t care what they say to people. They don’t care what they do as long as they win.” Christiansen claimed. “No one necessarily gets along with each other. We’re here to do a job. We’re like a machine. That took time to adjust to; to understand that people are not there to be liked.”
Christiansen went on to compare Lyon’s approach to football to what she was more familiar with in the WSL. According to her, players in the English league were focused on “being liked” rather than striving to be the best.Embed from Getty Images
It feels like a double standard to condemn Lyon for their ferocious approach. A quick glance at social media shows various close friendships in the group, but it is the reception of the team as footballers we should focus on. These players personify professionalism and do whatever they can to remain the best. We can sympathise with Christiansen’s struggle at settling at Lyon while critically assessing the response to her comments.
Must female athletes be likeable?
Lyon have created an environment where the squad can air their grievances, knowing their president will listen and act. This is a club where if anyone has an issue, captain Wendie Renard marches into Aulas’ office to set the matter straight. This should be an expectation of women’s clubs. As for wanting to be liked?
The position of Lyon in relation to likeability seems a direct issue of misogyny in the reception of the game, however inadvertent. Presenting Lyon as ruthless to feed a negative narrative about the club is a disservice to their professionalism. Female football players should not be burdened with the demand to be liked. They should not face criticism for choosing to take the sport seriously. There is no shame in Lyon prioritising winning over all else. Would there be equal outrage at a male team being confident and detached in their quest for victory?
Lyon’s approach can be shocking in a game that still requires its talent be personable to negate the threat of women’s teams. It should not be.Embed from Getty Images
Well-funded and possessing an elite mentality, Lyon are not here to be popular. They are here to win. Time and time again they succeed. They have been and will continue to be the great force in women’s football
They have paved the way for others to follow.