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Vision and patience made OL a top club (

21 Feb 2006 - Source:

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Jean-Michael Aulas, the Olympique Lyon President, was furious. One hour after PSV striker Robert had converted the decisive penalty of the shoot out last season, the entrepreneur vented his gall on the elimination of his club from the Champions League. A background story on Olympique Lyon. On 13 April 2005 Aulas vented criticism in the catacombs of the Eindhoven Philips Stadium on referee Kim Milton Nielsen, who was accused of having casually waved away a French penalty claim in extra time. The French media reported on the anger and disappointment of the French club for several days. Then Aulas changed his tune. "We can hardly be blamed. We were so close to reaching the semi finals. We will do anything to stage a comeback next season." Aulas could probably not have foreseen that his words could be taken so literally. He desperately wants 'OL' to make progress and now that they have clinched four French titles in a row, winning the Champions League is the most important aim. They are ruthless in their own country: they are set to set a new record in France by claiming the fifth title. But their campaign will only be perfect when they have won the Champions League final in the Stade de France, north of the capital Paris. When Aulas joined Olympique Lyon in1987, the club had fallen into a decline. Lyon was generally regarded as the suburb of archrivals Saint-Étienne, a club from the same area, but also the club that most Frenchmen regarded as the top side in their country. 'OL' were rooted to the bottom of the French Second Division and they were having huge financial problems. There were just three national cups and a few old yellowed pictures in the trophy cabinet. It took three years before Olympique Lyon showed their skills in the top flight once again. Michel Valke, who made a move from PSV, was their first foreign signing. Meanwhile Lyon has become the football capital of France. Visionary Auras patiently changed Olympique into a top side. But it did not go overnight. Lyon is looked upon as a beautiful, historical, but also serious and rather ‘cold’ city. Football was less alive than in the seaport town of Marseille, the capital Paris or the industrial towns of Lens and Saint-Étienne. Olympique Lyonnais had never played a European final, unlike clubs such as Stade Reims, Olympique Marseille and rivals AS Saint-Étienne. Olympique Lyon still do not enjoy the same reputation as Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Marseille, but an increasing number of people are attracted by the huge successes. Stade Gerland is their attractive home base and 'OL' are developing into the club of the new millennium. Jean-Michel Aulas has not only achieved successes in sports events. 'OL' are also gradually developing as a strong business company. The President surely knows how to run a company. He is in charge of a company specialized in computer programs. He employs over two thousand people. And the football club also benefits from his commercial expertise and know-how. He changed OL from a loss-making club into a profit making one club whose turnover is millions of euros. The club consists of a holding, the so-called OL-groupe. Three people worked at the administrative department twenty years ago. These days, 164 people have found employment in the same department. OL Voyage, a travel agency, OL Image and the merchandising come in the OL-groupe. The merchandising raises a stunning 22 millions euros each year. The club also receives 45 million euros in exchange for TV rights, 17 million euros from ticket sales and 16 million euros from sponsors. The fans can watch OLTV, a pay per view channel with daily coverage, and they can watch the games on a large screen in the OL Café. The fans pay six euros to get in and are offered two free drinks. Their budget is 104 million euros and because of the successful efforts made by Aulas, ‘OL’ have been lifted to the sixth place in the ranking of richest clubs. The training ground, scouting staff (a former player does scouting activities in Brazil, so that the PSV players Gomes and Alex will meet quite a few country felloes on the pitch tonight), club offices, all the ingredients are there to meet all the demands of a top level club. The mayor of Lyon, who is also a fan, wants to give the green light to build a new stadium that will accommodate 60, 000 people. The current ground cannot be renovated. It was built in 1926 and is protected by the preservation of monuments and historic buildings. Aulas has guided 'OL' into becoming a solid organization that is still making progress. Their supremacy is France seems to be unapproachable. Each year the squad is strengthened by lads who fit in perfectly. Newcomers such as John Carew, the Brazilian Fred or the Portuguese midfielder Tiago have been tempted to complete a deal with Olympique Lyonnais, because of the great image the club have acquired. It has paid off: Olympique Lyonnais cruised to an emphatic 3-0 win over Real Madrid in the group stages of the current campaign. And tonight they will face PSV once again. One thing has been constantly in the back of their minds: revenge. Head coach Houllier prefers to use a different phrase: "It presents a wonderful opportunity for us to show the world we have made progress." Aulas wants the team to be inspired by the club badge: "roar like a lion to satisfy their hunger in Europe."Text: PSV Media/Stijn Slaats