Five star players commit as the Olympique Lyonnais renaissance continues

Overcoming the financial strength of Paris Saint-Germain is an enduring and unenviable challenge for the rest of French football, with signs that this tough task will continue for years to come.

Of the likely contenders to run the capital city outfit the closest in Ligue 1, Olympique Lyonnais are undoubtedly the best equipped.

Having relinquished the lead of the league last term to finish second, the Stade de Gerland outfit will return to Champions League football in 2015-16 and seemingly have the long term in mind.

It is not that long ago that Lyon were the dominant force of French football, winning their first top-flight title in 2002 and backing it up with an unprecedented six more consecutive triumphs.

The days of Karim Benzema, Juninho Pernambucano, Sylvain Wiltord and other top talents gracing the blue and white of Les Gones may seem a lifetime ago to the Lyon fans, but signs are that the club have a plan in place to be France’s best once more.

The club have committed to building a new 60,000 capacity home, the Stade des Lumières, which will be one of the venues to host Euro 2016 and increase fan attendance and revenue significantly.

However, it is the retention of a number of key players that sees Lyon in a very strong position ahead of next term.

Although head coach Hubert Fournier will no longer be able to call on the experience and considerable technical ability of Yoann Gourcuff, who has left on a free transfer, it appears that he will be the only major departure.

Much speculation has surrounded the future of Alexandre Lacazette and rightly so given his recent breathtaking form.

Having topped the Ligue 1 scoring charts with an impressive 27 goals in 2014-15, the hotshot attacker has been playing a key role for the French national side also and is adjudged as one of Europe’s top young centre forwards.

Lacazette, after scoring the winner against AC Milan in a recent pre-season friendly, has moved to quell the rumblings and assured the club’s fans that he would not be leaving this summer, despite considerable reported interest.

The star player’s commitment to the Ligue 1 outfit will come as a major boost ahead of the 2015-16 campaign, while four other first-team players that led the team to second place last season have signed new contracts to reinforce the point.

Clément GrenierFirstly, key attacking midfielder Clément Grenier put pen-to-paper on an extension last month.

The France international has matured into an exciting, creative playmaker and his supply to the team’s potent attack is a key element to Lyon’s play.

Earlier this month, highly rated forward Nabil Fekir ended speculation over his future by penning a new and improved five-year deal to keep him with Les Gones.

A newly-capped Les Bleus international also, the 22-year-old is one of the brightest prospects in the French national game and could easily have departed for glamorous climes if he had so wished.

Finally, it was announced yesterday that influential centre-half Samuel Umtiti and versatile midfielder Jordan Ferri have both also extended their stay with the club also.

Both former France under-21 internationals, the pair were members of the crux of Fournier’s side last term.

The most promising thing about the quintet’s commitment is that they are all graduates of the club’s fabled youth team and with all of them in their early 20’s it serves very well for the future.

Lyon’s trust in young players contrasts so drastically to PSG’s big-money approach, but with the club’s young stars making a conscious decision to stay together ahead of a new stadium opening, the glory days could well be set to return.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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