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Lyon’s long reign may be under threat

July 9, 2007

Lyons Florent Malouda celebrates a goal with coach Gerard Houllier in December. Pascal Rossignol / ReutersOlympique Lyon, in a class of their own in France for years, might be challenged at last next season.

The winners of the last six Ligue 1 titles have let coach Gerard Houllier go and replaced him with Alain Perrin, joining from unglamorous Sochaux after failing to sparkle at Olympique Marseille and Portsmouth.

They have also lost several key players in Portugal midfielder Tiago, left-back Eric Abidal and winger Florent Malouda, now with Juventus, Barcelona and Chelsea respectively. Italy’s Fabio Grosso, who replaces Abidal, should do the job but the other newcomers, midfielders Mathieu Bodmer and Kader Keita, joining from Lille, are not exactly big names.

Lyon might still purchase a top striker but have failed to attract several players who would have been just fine, notably David Trezeguet and Miroslav Klose. A world-class forward is what they really need if they are to make an impact in Europe at last.

Chairman Jean-Michel Aulas, the owner of a software company, has turned Lyon from a sleepy provincial side into the measure of all things at home but what he really wants is to see them make Europe sit up and notice. Lyon have never advanced past the Champions League quarter-finals  and look unlikely to challenge the likes of AC Milan next season, unless they make a spectacular signing in the next few days.

The ones who could give them a hard time in France next season are Olympique Marseille. All right, Boudewijn Zenden, who has joined OM from Liverpool,¬† is no Maradona and is getting old but he is a useful winger. And the southerners have managed to keep exciting playmaker Samir Nasri and to make France striker Djibril Cisse’s stay permanent.

Marseille looked good up front last season, which they ended as runners-up to Lyon, but had a problem at the back which solid central defender Gael Givet, joining from Monaco, could help them solve.

Marseille have not won anything since lifting the European Cup in 1993 and feel the time has come to revive the glory days.

Lyon, by contrast, might be reaching the end of an era. One thing’s for sure, the Ligue 1 season, kicking off on August 4, is not a foregone conclusion for a change.

Patrick Vignal, Paris

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