Can Rudi Garcia revitalise Lyon?
Background image: Philippe, CC BY-SA 2.0
It was always going to be a tall order expecting Sylvinho to come up with the goods in charge of a club with Lyon's stature. The Brazilian had paid his dues, learning as an assistant at Cruzeiro and Inter Milan under Roberto Mancini. Serving as an assistant to Tite in the Brazilian national team was also expected to add to his wealth of knowledge within the game, yet, ultimately, the 45-year-old needed to go out on his own and prove himself.
Lyon provided that opportunity, but it proved to be a step too far in the end. A series of poor results in Ligue 1 which left the team at the wrong end of the table meant drastic action had to be taken. The derby defeat against AS Saint-Etienne on October 6 which left the side 14th in the league standings proved to be the last straw. Sylvinho was let go as his side were only clear of the relegation zone due to their superior goal difference.
Experienced gaffer Rudi Garcia is the new man in charge. The former Marseille manager has made his mark in the game by winning the league and cup double with Lille back in 2011. But his most recent achievement was leading Marseille to the Europa League final in 2018. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, he could not build on the accomplishment as the side failed to secure a European place at the end of last season. He was subsequently dismissed.
Lyon represents a huge opportunity for the 55-year-old to rub shoulders with the big boys again. For a club that has consistently played in the Champions League, ensuring the team is a contender again will represent success. That said, the current state of things suggests there's ample work to be done.
That said, Garcia hasn't started on a good note. His first game in charge ended in a barren draw against struggling Dijon. He and the team will need to get things moving, and fast, to return the side to the top end of the table. Currently, the likes of Nantes and Reims occupy second and third spot. With all due respect to the pair, their presence there is making a mockery of the league.
Worse still, it's giving Paris Saint-Germain the freedom to run away with the title once again - this time without even having to bother about anyone challenging. It has usually been Lyon and Monaco giving Les Parisiens a run for their money in recent times, but the duo has not been able to keep up with the pace in 2019/20's early-goings.
As with Monaco, Lyon's biggest problem has been the inability to hold on to key players in the long term. Too much chopping and changing of the team is now taking its toll. The latest key man to leave the club is former captain and World Cup winner Nabil Fekir who departed for Real Betis in the summer. For a player that Liverpool came close to signing, it's surprising he was let go to the Spanish side for a measly £17million.
His departure, as well as that of central midfielder Tanguy Ndombele and left-back Ferland Mendy to Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid respectively, has hit the team hard. The replacements have not been up to par. Changing the manager to rookie Sylvinho just made things worse and Garcia must now clean up the mess.
Fortunately for him, there's still far more quality here than was available at Marseille. With players like Jason Denayer at the back, Houssem Aouar in midfield with forwards Memphis Depay and Moussa Dembele forming the core of the team, much can be achieved. The former Roma boss only needs to find a way to get the best out of them and the squad on a whole. His antecedents suggest that's achievable.
A string of victories in the coming weeks is all it will take to climb back up the table. Although catching Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the day is out of the question, grabbing a Champions League spot is still possible. After all, it's still very early in the season.
One thing the French manager has going for him (experience aside) is time. The likes of Nantes, Reims, Lille and his former side Marseille (now led by Andre Villas-Boas) cannot stop Lyon from picking up a Champions League ticket at the end of the season...