Saturday, July 16, 2011
Changing of Garde gives Lyon lift
An interesting aside to Remi Garde's appointment as coach of Olympique Lyonnais was in the detail of his presentation. At 45, Garde doesn't have the UEFA Pro Licence and so was actually appointed as 'technical director', with long-term goalkeeping coach and now assistant coach Joel Bats - who does have the pro licence - acting as the name above the door. Lyon's travails of the last three years mean a little loophole location to satisfy the rules counts not even as a minor inconvenience.
Club president Jean-Michel Aulas will need no reminder that precise definition of title is important, especially where the man in the hot seat is concerned. Garde's appointment is more than just a vote for the former Arsenal man as a safe pair of hands: security and stability is sought in returning to the hierarchical structure that propelled Lyon to seven successive titles in the first decade of the century.
When Garde's predecessor, Claude Puel, was appointed amid much fanfare, the aim was to remove the one perceived weakness in the management model, giving the team itself a real leader, with real power. Aulas's decision to give Puel the title - and responsibility - of 'general manager' was an unmitigated disaster. The cost to Aulas financially, and in loss of silverware and personal reputation, was painfully steep.
Puel and the club are heading for court in order to settle up for the 12 months that were yet to run on his four-year deal when he left Lyon last month, with the erstwhile boss claiming €5 million in wages and potential bonuses. Yet even the worst-case scenario in front of the judges could hardly make the summation of Lyon's fortunes under Puel more chastening.
Over the last two seasons of the former Lille manager's tenure, Lyon spent a mind-boggling €110 million on players, making a total of €155 million since his 2008 arrival. With no trophies won and a style of football which infuriated the Gerland supporters, the only factor stopping Puel being fired more quickly was the further exorbitant expense that would be occurred. Unsurprisingly, the club's trading losses of €35 million for the financial year ending in June 2010 were the biggest in Ligue 1.
The summer 2009 signing of Michel Bastos was the clearest indicator of how much power within the club had shifted. Lille demanded €18 million for Bastos. Club legend Bernard Lacombe, previously omnipotent adviser to Aulas, baulked at the price but Puel insisted, and Aulas went ahead and paid the money to clinch the deal.
So why was Puel given such free reign? One answer is the dissatisfaction with the management of Puel's own predecessor, Alain Perrin, with the perception being that an experienced squad was running amok under a coach without sufficient status, though the former Troyes and Portsmouth boss led Lyon to the league and cup double in his one and only season. Sidney Govou's recent revelation that the senior players had a half-time discussion without Perrin during the 2008 Coupe de France final against Paris Saint-Germain to change from his tactical plan only reinforced this view.
Now Aulas has realised that less is more. Garde is an unobtrusive if determined character, who knows the club inside out having played at the Gerland between 1987 and 1993, before later returning as Gerard Houllier's assistant for two seasons between 2005 and 2007. Even more significantly, Garde was the club's academy director last season, and recognises the value of the highly-promising likes of France Under-19 forward Alexandre Lacazette and Clement Grenier, given little opportunity under Puel. It echoes a subject that Lacombe and Houllier previously crossed swords on, when the former expressed his belief that the ex-Liverpool boss was stymieing the development of Karim Benzema by signing the likes of John Carew and Milan Baros.
The break with the previous era has already been marked. Garde pointedly thanked Lacombe and Aulas specifically for "putting their confidence in me" at his presentation, underlining his ability to recognise the established order at the club. The coach has pinpointed the need to raise spirits as a first priority, and recently recalled the atmosphere among the Lyon side with which he was promoted to Ligue 1 in 1989 as a reference. "We were all mates together, and had total confidence in the coaching structure. At the very top level, you can have quality but at any given moment, if you can't rely on a friend, it's very difficult."
The change has clearly met with the approval of the dressing room, with Miralem Pjanic describing Garde's arrival as "a breath of fresh air", while former captain Cris - who endured an awful relationship with Puel - was even more blunt: "If he (Puel) had stayed, I would have asked to leave." Possibly Puel's biggest mistake during his time in charge was his refusal to discuss tactics with senior players used to being asked their opinions. "(Garde) communicates with us a lot," Cris says, "and it creates a reciprocal confidence."
Nobody is suggesting that Garde's task will be a simple one, which he acknowledges in saying "there's no miracle recipe". Even the ever-bullish Aulas recently admitted that Lyon "have no right to talk about the title" after the failures of the last three years, and it is clear sales are necessary to balance the books following the mammon of recent years, with Jeremy Toulalan already having joined Malaga for €11 million and Michel Bastos looking likely to head to Juventus.
Garde will look to rebuild around another big Puel signing, the so-far-underwhelming Yoann Gourcuff. The possibility that Gourcuff will have to undergo an operation to remove a piece of floating bone from his ankle - which would seriously compromise the playmaker's participation in the crucial Champions League qualifying play-off in August - is a worry, but a minor one given the misery that the €22 million man lived through in Puel's system. Puel was a coach whose views on football, Gourcuff admitted last season, "are very different to mine." A quick look at the last three Ligue 1 winners - Bordeaux, Marseille and Lille - shows that stability counts in France. For once, Lyon will leave the spending to PSG this summer as they seek to recover.