As Sam Cooke once sang ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’. Not many songs ring truer than the soul classic when it comes to summer and football. More than most, Ligue 1 clubs have to expect change every transfer window, so you have to be prepared and you have to make the right decisions.
Last summer, Lyon were flying on the back of a second place finish in the league. Their young stars had shone and propelled them back into the Champions League group stage. Things looked bright. There was the ever present cloud of Alexandre Lacazette’s future hanging over them, but when your chairman is Jean-Michel Aulas, that’s never an issue – more a useful tool to push your own agenda.
Even though the eccentric owner pissed off his best striker - telling the world about the proposed new deal and Lacazette getting smacked over the head by his own grandmother (maybe) – Lacazette decided to stay and Aulas would be able to open the new Parc OL with his crown jewel in place.
That’s where the positives stopped. Claudio Beauvue, signed from EA Guingamp after scoring 17 goals in Ligue 1, was a disaster. The French forward was quickly shipped out to Celta Vigo as soon as the winter window creaked open.
Lacazette and Lyon were struggling. Form, in-fighting, formations, coaches, it was all a bit disastrous. They fell out of the group stage and then defeat to Gazelec Ajaccio signalled the end of Hubert Fournier’s time as head coach.
Since January, under the guidance of loyal club man, Bruno Genesio, their form has turned around. Lacazette adapted to playing in the new look 4-3-3, and Lyon got back to their swashbuckling, free-flowing football that had been so successful in the past. They became the first club to beat PSG in the league and stormed to second place with a 6-1 win over rivals Monaco at a jubilant Parc OL.
It may have started poorly, but the club has somehow found itself in the same position it was 12 months ago. No one would have predicted that in January.
There is a sense of déjà vu, but this time OL can’t afford to get it wrong. Despite the English tabloids linking him to every club that would sell an issue, Lacazette wasn’t going to leave last summer. This year there’s a definite and very high chance he will make his move.
Lyon do have Nabil Fekir to make a full recovery, plus the young talents of Maxwel Cornet, Rachid Ghezzal and young Aldo Kalulu, but that won’t be enough to fight both domestically and in Europe. Sadly, one of the reasons behind Lyon’s recent success has been the ongoing issues with Mathieu Valbuena.
Before the end of the year, Valbuena started 14 games. Under Genesio, he has managed just seven of 18 league matches. The honest truth is that they have been better without him. On loan from Dynamo Moscow, the little Frenchman struggled to find his role in the team, often slowing down attacks and looking out of place.
It has improved towards the end of the campaign, but with Fekir’s likely return to full-fitness, it’s hard to see where and how he fits into this team going forward. Although it seems that Aulas doesn't agree, telling TV station France 2 that he hopes that the 31-year-old will return to Parc OL for the new campaign. "He has had a difficult season for the reasons we know. You need to have known him both in and out of the locker room to know this boy deserves to play in the Champions League with OL."
The confusion continues, led by Aulas – who else – with his current pursuit of trying to lure Hatem Ben Arfa back to Lyon this summer. The 29-year-old played for the club before leaving on fairly bad terms, but now he has “grown up” as Aulas claimed, the president wants to sign him on a free transfer, teasing the player by suggesting that Lyon could be the place where he becomes world-class.
Any club would want a player that finished with 17 goals and six assists, but when you have Fekir and Valbuena and the still uncertain future of midfield creator Clement Grenier, there could be a case of too many cooks spoiling the devastating broth.
Lyon got it wrong last summer and PSG, although already untouchable, galloped away. With the Parisians facing their own summer of uncertainty as they look to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic and decide if Edinson Cavani is actually good enough to lead their attack, there is a chance, that with a strong start, the gap could be reduced.
Lacazette may well move on, but there is enough talent in that squad that accompanied by the right signings, and letting the right players move on, Lyon could challenge PSG’s dominance and breathe life into Ligue 1 once again – no pressure Aulas.