7-time French champion Lyon is in crisis amid a fight between owner Textor and former boss Aulas

There was a time when Lyon ruled French soccer. Back when the likes of Karim Benzema, Brazil midfielder Juninho and France winger Florent Malouda were helping the club win seven consecutive league titles at the start of the century.

Well, that was a long time ago. And it doesn't look like such a dynasty can be revived soon, with the club now plunged in a sporting crisis amid a legal dispute between its current owner, American businessman John Textor, and his predecessor.

It was worth listening to Lyon midfielder Corentin Tolisso when he left the field last weekend after another worrying display from his team, a 0-0 draw at Nice that left Lyon second from last with only one point from three matches.

“Today, we’re the Olympique Lyonnais of 2023-2024. We’re not the Olympique Lyonnais of 2002-2003,” Tolisso summed up. “We’re not going to take ourselves for others. We’re not like our predecessors ... And today, the Olympique Lyonnais of 2023-24 is happy to take a point at Nice."

Nobody will blame Tolisso, a product of the club's renowned academy who returned to Lyon last year to help it back to its glory days, for speaking the truth.

But it's unlikely his words of wisdom will have pleased Textor, who proclaimed his ambition to target the dominance of Paris Saint-Germain when he became the club's main shareholder last year.

Saying that things didn’t work out as the new boss had hoped would be an understatement.

After finishing last season in seventh place and 23 points behind PSG, Lyon got off to its worst start to a season since 1966 with two consecutive losses that included a 4-1 home defeat. Still winless, coach Laurent Blanc is now under pressure ahead of Sunday's game against PSG, and Textor has made clear he wants improvement.

But Blanc has limited means to get things back on track, with several key players injured and only a few arrivals from the transfer window, including forwards Mama Balde and Ernest Nuamah, as well as former Arsenal midfielder Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

Blanc has been complaining about the frugal offseason purchases, but there is nothing much Textor could have been doing after a decision by French soccer’s financial watchdog to monitor the club’s transfer activities this season.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the DNCG, Lyon was allowed to bring in new players but its moves in the market have been limited under “a framework for wage costs and transfer indemnities" that hampered its recruiting.

The DNCG ruled that Lyon did not provide sufficient financial guarantees despite Textor's financial arguments.

“We lost an opportunity to be aggressive this summer, to go after targeted players that Lyon doesn’t usually go after,” Textor was quoted as saying in an interview with several media outlets. "We weren’t able to make that leap forward. It’s a terrible feeling to be going into this ‘mercato’ with one hand tied behind our backs. We have the investment scale to position ourselves on players valued at 30 to 50 million euros, but we can’t spend that money.”

Textor, who also has stakes in Premier League team Crystal Palace, Belgian club RWD Molenbeek and Brazilian team Botafogo, was appointed chief executive officer of OL Group in May with Lyon’s iconic Jean-Michel Aulas stepping down as president.

The relationship between the pair has quickly deteriorated and reached its nadir this week when Lyon's commercial tribunal ordered to freeze 14.5 million euros ($15.7 million) of the club’s funds corresponding to part of the money owed to Aulas in relation to the purchase of his shares.

Lyon said in a statement it “deeply regrets that its former chairman, who is also a shareholder and director of the company, and as such fully aware of the extremely damaging nature of his actions, has initiated a violent and illegitimate attack on Olympique Lyonnais.”

In that turbulent context, preparations for Sunday's big game against the new dominant force of French soccer are far from ideal.


AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer

Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press