Jean-Michel Aulas is celebrating 30 years as president of Olympique Lyonnais, the side he fashioned into French champions, winning seven successive Ligue 1 Conforama titles thanks to his unquenchable thirst for improvement.
When Aulas took over OL when they were still in French football’s second tier in 1987, he was taken as something of a madmen for predicting the club would soon play in Europe, and would even have its own TV channel in the future.
He came good on both promises, and did not stop there, building an irrepressible juggernaut of a side that lifted the French title every season between 2002 and 2008.
“We never just sat back and admired ourselves,” Aulas told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS. “Our attitude was, we have to try to better ourselves year after year.”
They did that despite the team coach changing four times, from Jacques Santini to Paul Le Guen, Gérard Houllier and Alain Perrin, who actually steered the club to a domestic double in 2007-08.
Though the face in the dug-out changed, many of those on the pitch stayed the same. There through it all were goalkeeper Greg Coupet and forward Sidney Govou, who were assisted by a supporting cast that included Florent Malouda, Eric Abidal and Michael Essien among many other high-quality players.
But the catalyst, as Aulas himself explained, was a previously little-known Brazilian who arrived at Lyon from Vasco da Gama in 2001.
“On the pitch he was an exceptional talent who was capable scoring astonishing free kicks,” said Aulas of Juninho Pernambucano, whose stunning ability to find the net at set-pieces netted him nearly half of the century of goals he struck in eight fruitful years in France’s second city.
“Off the pitch he was a master tactician and a leader.”
Juninho has since been replaced by homegrown talents such as Nabil Fekir, the current side’s midfield magician and just one of the stars that has rolled out of Lyon’s highly-productive youth academy.
Arguably the most successful is Benzema, who is approaching a decade at Real Madrid where his progress has also been a great advert for the club that made him.
“He marked Lyon’s history when he was at the club, but also when he left,” explained Aulas. “By succeeding so well at Real Madrid he is also flying the flag for Lyon’s academy.”