Juninho's return to Lyon at the start of the season prompted enthusiasm and hope at the club but these proved short-lived, giving way to anger and frustration at the seven-time French champions, who in recent years have been reduced to merely striving for consistency.
Ahead of Juventus' visit later this week in the Champions League, Lyon is languishing below its traditional French league rivals Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille. And despite calls for unity from longtime club president Jean-Michel Aulas, Lyon's influential ultra groups of supporters are fed up.
Despite a penalty from Moussa Dembele and a late goal from Houssem Aouar that ended a four-game winless streak during the weekend in a 2-0 win at Metz, Lyon's main group of diehard fans was unimpressed. The Bad Gones staged a protest at the club's home to criticize the players' perceived lack of character and blamed Aulas for poor transfer decisions, accusing him of being more interested in financial stability than sporting greatness.
After selling Ferland Mendy and Tanguy Ndombele for more than 100 million euros over the summer, Lyon has failed to win 16 of its 26 league games this season and lags 28 points behind leader PSG.
“What happened to our hatred of defeat, to our determination to win and to see our colours shine?" the group asked Aulas in a statement after holding talks with players and coach Rudi Garcia at the club's training centre.
Long gone are the days when Lyon ruled over French football, sealing seven consecutive titles from 2002-08, a golden era featuring Juninho, the former Brazil midfielder whose genius free kicks enchanted Lyon fans.
Following a season of many lows capped by an infamous home loss to Rennes in the French Cup, Aulas parted ways with coach Bruno Genesio last year and appointed Juninho as sports director, with former Arsenal defender Sylvinho taking over as his head coach.
The Brazilian duo was tasked with recapturing some of the team's past lustre. But the move did not work and Sylvinho was replaced by Garcia in October after only a few matches in charge. A former Marseille coach, Garcia's tenure took a blow in December when Memphis Depay and midfielder Jeff Reine-Adelaïde were both ruled out until the end of the season with ruptured knee ligaments.
In Aulas' defence, Lyon has made some astute buys during the winter transfer window, with Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes and forward Karl Toko Ekambi joining the club. Guimaraes made a solid debut in Metz and is expected to play a key role against Juventus in the Champions League last 16.
In response to the fans' protests, Lyon said in a statement its sporting ambitions are “intact," insisting on the the nearly 50 million euros spent during the winter to reinforce Garcia's squad and to “compensate for the exceptional cascade injuries" that hit the club.
“Good management in no way excludes the hatred of defeat and, moreover, allows fans and shareholders alike to appreciate an exceptional sporting performance over the long term," the club said.
But for now, with the Italian champions coming to town only four days before Lyon's biggest match of the season against bitter rival Saint-Etienne, it's only the short term that counts.
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