This article also appeared on GFFN and Guardian Sport.
The week ahead could prove pivotal in the recent history of Lyon. A cup semi final and a decision over embattled coach Bruno Genesio’s future could go some way to shaping the club’s longer term future. Outspoken yet inspirational President Jean-Michel Aulas looks likely to persist with Genesio, who’s stewardship of the team has fluctuated wildly during three years in charge, inciting fan ire and ignoring flirtatious glances from Jose Mourinho in the process. Aulas’ stubbornness may have finally got the better of him.
During the 70 year old Frenchman’s 32 year tenure, Lyon have conquered many a summit but their dominance of the early 2000s across seven consecutive titles, a Champions League semi final and a smattering of cup success has receded from memory quicker than many would have expected. In light PSG’s QSI driven success and Monaco’s glorious 2017 title win, OL fans have grown impatient - particularly with Genesio. "We believe, as we said last season, that only the departure of Bruno Genesio will allow a more serene atmosphere around the club,” a statement from the Bad Gones ultra group read, “Without serenity, our club will not be able to reach the summits for which it is intended."
Initially assistant to previous coach Hubert Fournier, a Lyon native and former OL midfielder, Genesio’s tenure has been characterised by extremes. The highs of marquee domestic wins over PSG, ending unbeaten Parisien campaigns twice in four seasons, and overcoming Manchester City in September, plus making the 2017 Europa League semi finals, have been balanced out by catetophoic collapses. An abject 4-1 first leg loss in that Europa League semi to Ajax and repeated struggles against lesser opposition in France have halted progress.
While negative chants and banners aimed at the coach are common, fan ire with Genesio has often spilled into the unsavoury. Forced to end his presence on social media amid a torrent of abuse, Genesio was filmed in an altercation with an OL fan before Christmas who reportedly insulted his daughter. With pressure mounting and his contract set to expire this summer, Genesio’s future has been debated all season in France.
The 52 year old has been in this position before. With fans infuriated at a limp European defeat to Lokomotiv Moscow last March, Genesio seemed to be limping towards the exit before a dramatic 3-2 win over Marseille and subsequent return to the Champions League revitalised his tenure. Back from the brink, not for the first time, "there is only one thing inescapable in life, that is death” Genesio explained after Memphis Depay’s late headed winner, his contract later being extended for this season.
However, little has changed between now and then and the OL coach is again nearing the end of his contract. With Wednesday set for an announcement on Genesio’s future, according to L’equipe, after a late Martin Terrier winner over Rennes on Friday, the Lyon board will offer a new two year deal with an option for a third linked to on Champions League qualification.
President Aulas has always been Genesio’s most fervent supporter, describing his victorious game plan at the Etihad as “perfect, the match went as Bruno imagined”, while routinely highlighting the fact that his “players play for him.” In September Aulas, who regularly meets with fan groups, dismissed protests as “a movement of the young, who have an opinion on everything, and is not necessarily supported elsewhere.”
For Aulas, fiercely proud of his club, Genesio meets his coaching criteria. “I do not think the arrival of a foreign coach would be the best thing” stated Aulas last Autumn, “I’ve never had one... when 50 to 70% of the squad comes from the academy I think we have an interest in having a coach who has OL DNA.” Genesio, equally proud, certainly has that, explaining after last year’s Europa League exit: "I am Lyonnais, every time I go out in the streets it's as if I have a Lyon jersey on. When we're playing well, we're proud, but right now I'm not afraid to say that I'm ashamed of what we did, considering the fans and the institution."
Nevertheless Genesio may have come closer to leaving than it seems. L’equipe reported before the Coupe de France quarter final with Caen that Genesio was “playing for his future”, while suggestions that Jose Mourinho was interested in a Ligue 1 job have intensified with Lyon reportedly a preference. L’equipe went so far as splash a sneering Mourinho on their front page last week with the headline ‘The Special (Ligue) One’. When asked if his interest was genuine, Mourinho responded: “If I say no, I will not be honest with you.” While no approach was made, Genesio humbly responded to speculation, explaining: “Wherever he went he’s won, obviously he is a great coach. If he is to succeed me, it is with great pride."
Appointing the Portugese coach would be a sizeable departure for Aulas, as previous appointments of Gerard Houllier, Raymond Domenech, Jacques Santini, Jean Tigana, Remi Garde and Alan Perrin all follow broadly similar lines of the less than youthful French coach with proven Ligue 1 knowledge. While Mourinho’s arrival would have proved disastrous, his conservative outlook and mallevent persona being directly opposed to a youthful, free-wheeling Lyon squad, a broadening of horizons when looking for a new coach might have been worthwhile.
While this campaign has been solid enough and the level of criticism Genesio endured largely unjust, the time may have been right for Aulas to “turn the page”, as one fan banner pleaded this season. Despite little shame in Champions League defeat to Barcelona, PSG remain out of sight domestically as Lyon routinely falter against weaker Ligue 1 sides and performances continue to fluctuate. While Aulas may be a passionate, inspirational leader, his famed stubbornness in persisting with Genesio may have consigned his beloved club to two more years of underachievement and running battles with fans. Although Tuesday’s semi final with Rennes may go some way to ending seven years without a trophy, Aulas’ following announcement may leave OL’s ‘summit’ beyond reach.
by Adam White