After team bus was attacked, Lyon must regroup quickly to turn around bad start to the season
Thu, Nov 2, 2023
Soccer News (AP)
Lyon's players will have to refocus their minds quickly for the home game against Metz in the French league on Sunday after their team bus was attacked in Marseille by fans throwing projectiles last weekend, injuring their coach and causing that match to be called off.
The bus attack was the lowest point yet for a club that has struggled badly this season, and is the only team in the league yet without a win. The seven-time French champion is last in the standings and now has to recover from the trauma of last week's incident as well if it wants to avoid relegation at the end of the season.
The Lyon team bus was hit by thrown objects on the way to Stade Velodrome, shattering some windows. Lyon coach Fabio Grosso was injured by falling shards of glass and needed medical treatment with his face bleeding profusely.
"What happened on Sunday evening could have been a tragedy, and it certainly was for the sport and all those who love it," Grosso wrote on his Instagram account. "I hope with all my heart that it will serve as a lesson for our future."
Grosso suffered a deep cut above his left eye that required stitches and was told by doctors to take a month off to recover. The Italian coach watched the team's training session on Tuesday but didn't participate like he usually does.
The Marseille game was called off and Lyon is in no mood to go back to Stade Velodrome.
"We want the safety of our players to be guaranteed," Lyon's director of football Vincent Ponsot told the club's website. "Today, the safety requirements to play in Marseille are not met. The game should therefore be played on a neutral ground."
The trip also hurt Lyon's image as some of its supporters were seen making Nazi salutes and monkey gestures.
"Lyon firmly condemns the unacceptable racist behavior of individuals in the away end on Sunday," the club said in a statement posted on social media.
The French league's disciplinary commission is investigating the behavior of those supporters.
The prospect of relegation is real for Lyon, a storied club known for its record run of seven straight league titles from 2002 to 2008. The last time Lyon played in the second division was during the 1988-89 season.
But even former powerhouses are not immune to the drop. Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux were both relegated to the second division in 2022.
The signs of Lyon's decline have been obvious in the past couple of years. Lyon finished in the top five spots from 1999 to 2019. The seventh-place finish in 2020 was considered a blip because Lyon reached the semifinals of the Champions League that year. Lyon managed to finish fourth in 2021, but that proved to be a false dawn as the club finished eighth in 2022 and seventh last season, missing out on European competition.
French businessman Jean-Michel Aulas was the driving force behind Lyon's rise. He took over the club in 1987 while it was still in the second division, cleared its debts and turned Lyon into one of the richest clubs in the world.
But the financial situation then deteriorated under Aulas. Lyon made net losses of 36 million euros in 2020, 107 million euros in 2021 and 55 million euros in 2022 whereas it made net profits from 2016 to 2019.
Aulas hoped to change the club's fortunes by selling it to American businessman John Textor last year. The relationship between Aulas and Textor was cordial initially. But it turned sour when the club's results worsened this season, and the blame game between Aulas and Textor even turned into an ugly public spat.
The turmoil also spread to the coaching staff. Lyon split with coach Laurent Blanc in September after the club racked up only one point from its first four league games. But things haven't improved, as the team picked up just one point from the first four games of Grosso's tenure.
A disappointing summer transfer window hasn't helped. Lyon's recruitment was hampered by restrictions imposed by the DNCG, French football's financial watchdog, which tightly monitored the club's budget for transfers and wages.
Driven by financial considerations, Lyon sold its most promising academy graduates. Malo Gusto joined Chelsea, Castello Lukeba departed for Leipzig, and Bradley Barcola signed for Paris Saint-Germain.
The club signed youngsters like Jake O'Brien from Crystal Palace, Skelly Alvero from Sochaux, Diego Moreira from Chelsea, and Ernest Nuamah from Molenbeek. But they are raw and unproven and need time to develop.
And Lyon doesn't have much time to improve, if it wants to avoid relegation.
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