1999-2000: An ambitious recruitment
For the second season in a row, OL would finish third in the league. The summer was marked by an ambitious recruitment which saw the arrivals of Sonny Anderson (for a French transfer record), Pierre Laigle and Tony Vairelles. After a hesitant start OL held top spot after five games, then again after eight and 12 weeks. Lyon won at the Stade Vélodrome against Marseille and took a draw from the derby at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard against Saint-Etienne.
Les Gones led again from Rounds 14 to 16 and was one of the teams to beat. In Round 26, however, Nantes thrashed OL 6-1 and it wasn’t until the final two weeks that the club was assured of a third-place finish and qualification for the preliminary round of the Champions League, after beating Bastia 2-1 and drawing with Montpellier 2-2. Sonny Anderson ended up as the league’s top scorer with 23 goals.
In the Coupe de France OL barely survived a disastrous first round exit, overcoming Tours, 1-0 after extra-time. They would then eliminate Troyes (1-0) and Red Star (1-2) before being bundled out by Monaco 3-1 in the quarter-finals. In the Coupe de la Ligue, Lyon brushed aside Amiens (3-1), then Bordeaux (1-0) at the Stade Gerland before coming unstuck at Bastia (0-1).
The Champions League proved to be a huge disappointment at being knocked out by Slovenia’s Maribor. The team came back in the UEFA Cup, easily disposed of Helsinki before twice defeating Celtic Glasgow by a single goal. Lyon then beat Werder Bremen 3-0 only to be stunned 0-4 on the return leg and eliminated at the round-of-32.
The squad: Coupet, Hugues, Socié Delmotte, Laville, Uras, Blanc, Carteron, Bak, Devaux, Bréchet, Violeau, Fournier, Dhorasoo, Laigle, Linarès, Malbranque, Caveglia, Vairelles, Govou, Kanoute, Anderson.
Top scorer: Anderson (23)League: 3rd of 18 (Qualification for the preliminary round of the Champions League)
Coupe de France: Eliminated in the quarter-finals by Monaco (1-3 at Gerland)
Coupe de la Ligue: Eliminated in the quarter-finals by Bastia (0-1 at Gerland)
Champions League: Eliminated in first round by Maribor (0-1 and 0-2)
UEFA Cup: Eliminated in the rd-of-32 by Werder Bremen (3-0 and 0-4)
Coach: Jacques Santini, 2000 to 2002
2000-2001: OL plays with the big boys
[IMG29999#L]May 5, 2001 will remain forever engraved on the memory of the club. On that day, OL won the Coupe de la Ligue, their first silverware since the 1973 Coupe de France. But even more impressively, over 40,000 Lyon fans made the trip to the Stade de France which seemed to be a giant Stade Gerland for the day!
But if that victory stands out as the pinnacle of the 2000-01 season it was far from being the only success. OL would contest 57 matches in all competitions (only Liverpool would play more games in Europe this year)!
Despite a tough start to the season (OL would be a lowly ninth at the halfway point), marked by a few highlights, like the 3-0 victory over the leader Lens in Week 7, and a few lows such as home defeats to Guingamp and Lille, Les Gones still managed to finish second, a mere hair’s breadth from Nantes. Indeed OL would come home with a wet sail: 17 games, 12 wins, four defeats and just one loss, including seven wins in a row in the last seven games! Sonny Anderson, the symbol of Lyon’s success, profited to score his 100th Ligue 1 goal (in the 3-2 win over Guingamp) and finished as the league’s top scorer for the second year in a row with 22 goals – 12 of which arrived in the last ten games!
But this season would ultimately be remembered for the superb European adventure of Jacques Santini’s men. Everything began in August when Lyon disposed of Inter Bratislava (4-2 on aggregate) in the preliminary round of the Champions League and qualified for the first time in their history for the competition proper. And despite a tough group composed of Valencia, Olympiakos and Heerenveen, Les Gones, on the back of a 1-0 opening match win over the Greeks (1-0) would make it over the first hurdle. OL was suddenly in amongst the big boys in a group with Spartak Moscow, Arsenal and Bayern Munich. In flattening Spartak 3-0 and, above all the future winners Bayern, also 3-0, Sonny Anderson, Sidney Govou and co. surprised all of Europe. Unfortunately the fabulous adventure would come to a close on the banks of the Volga, where despite a 1-1 draw with Spartak, OL was eliminated from the Champions League.
The Coupe de France this season would also end in much frustration. After overcoming Caen (3-2 at Gerland), Saint-Etienne (on penalties in the derby) and Fontenay le Comte (also on penalties), OL would fall to Strasbourg, 3-0 in the quarter-finals.
The run in the Coupe de Ligue, however, was to prove infinitely more satisfying for Les Gones. Successive wins over Sedan (2-1), Lens (3-1), Amiens (2-1) and Nantes (3-2) finally opened the doors to the mythical Stade de France. A 2-1 victory over Monaco thanks to Müller’s extra-time winner saw Lyon lift their first piece of silverware in 28 years. Lyon had made a triumphant return to the top and the machine had been set in motion…
The squad: Coupet, Hugues, Delmotte, Laville, Blanc, Deflandre, Chanelet, Bak, Caçapa, Bréchet, Violeau, Edmilson, Müller, Dhorasoo, Foé, Laigle, Linarès, Ribeiro, Malbranque, Vairelles (puis Loko), Govou, Anderson, Marlet
Top scorer: Anderson (22)League: 2nd of 18 (Qualification for the Champions League)
Coupe de France: Eliminated in the quarter-finals by Strasbourg (3-0 at Strasbourg)
Coupe de la Ligue: Winner: beat Monaco 2-1 after extra-time
Champions League: Eliminated in the second group phase
2001-2002: Lyon’s crowning glory!
[IMG30000#R]”The more enemies, the sweeter the victory”… so read the huge banner unveiled in the Virage Nord (North Stand) on May 4, 2002. A banner that, for the final game at the Stade Gerland, perfectly summed up the 2001-2002 season. Because, due to the reputation garnered over the course of the previous campaign with victory in the Coupe de la Ligue, a runners-up spot in the championship and their excellent European adventure, Les Gones would see many opponents hoping to bring them undone from day one of the 2001-2002 campaign. Following an opening day defeat to Lens (2-0), Jacques Santini’s men would then win four on the trot, thereby confirming their preseason billing as favourites for the title. After destroying the reigning champions Nantes (4-1) and then Rennes (4-0), Lyon found themselves on top of the table after Week 9. Unfortunately, a disappointing October saw the Olympians fall adrift of top spot. At the winter break OL was three points behind the leader Lens. Three points that, with the passing of each match and the playing of games in hand, would suddenly blow out to eight. Sonny Anderson’s teammates were slowly seeing their dreams disappear. But Lyon, never losing sight of the fact that Lens had to play at the Stade Gerland on the final day of the season were not keeping count. OL would remain undefeated at home all season (14 wins, three draws) but struggled on the road (eight defeats). But the Olympians would throw everything into the final run home and managed to register two crucial away wins against Auxerre (1-0, Week 31) and Bordeaux (1-0, Week 33) to trail by a single point on the morning of May 4, the morning of the visit of Lens it what was essentially, the final for the whole season. On that day, the Stade Gerland turned on the style and 40,000 sang and screamed until they were hoarse. The pressure was enormous as Lyon were suddenly just 90 minutes away from a first title as champion of France. It seemed written in stone and nothing was going to change it. Lyon won 3-1. An historical and magical moment, just like the crazy night that followed on the streets of Lyon. A deserved crowning glory for Sonny Anderson, who with 14 goals would again be the club’s top scorer, and for the rest of the squad.
This final triumph overshadowed an otherwise tough season in the various cup competitions. Landed with a particularly competitive group (Bayer Leverkusen, Fenerbahce and Barcelona), OL was eliminated at the first hurdle of the Champions League, without troubling Barca and Bayer, future semi-finalists and finalists respectively. Third in the group with the same number of points as the previous campaign, OL slipped down to the UEFA Cup, less prestigious, but no less difficult. Les Gones would edge past Bruges thanks to a fantastic Sonny Anderson hat-trick in the return leg (3-0 after losing the first leg 4-1) only to bow out in the next round in Prague, against Liberec (5-2 on aggregate).
The domestic cups offered little joy. In the Coupe de France, after an easy win over Saint Malo (6-0) OL stumbled at home against Châteauroux (2-0). While in the Coupe de la Ligue, the cup holders were twice faced with the prospect of penalties. The first ended happily against Sochaux, but the second, against Bordeaux who go on to win the competition was less so.
There certainly were many enemies during this 2001-2002 season, but how sweet was the victory on that unforgettable May 4, up there... perched on the balcony of the Town Hall...
The squad: Coupet, Delmotte, Laville, Deflandre, Chanelet, Bak, Caçapa, Bréchet, Violeau, Edmilson, Müller, Juninho, Foé, Laigle, Linarès, Carrière, Luyindula, Govou, Anderson, Née
Top scorer: Anderson (14)League: 1st of 18 (Qualification for the Champions League)
Coupe de France: Eliminated in the rd-of-32 by Châteauroux (0-2 at Gerland)
Coupe de la Ligue: Eliminated in the rd-of-16 by Bordeaux (1-1, 2-4 on penalties)
Champions League: Eliminated in the first group phase
UEFA Cup: Eliminated in the rd-of-16 by Slovan Liberec (1-1 and 1-4))
2002-2003: Lyon continues to reign!
[IMG30061#L]OL did it! Les Gones won their bet, a wild bet to win a second consecutive French championship. Once again, keeping with the tradition of the last three years, the Place des Terreaux was invaded by revellers celebrating another exceptional achievement. However nothing was to come easily to Paul Le Guen’s side, the new coach who replaced Jacques Santini (who took the reins of the national team). The season bore more than a passing resemblance to the one that preceded it.
Everything began well for OL who were rapidly installed in the leading group thanks to some stunning home results against Sedan (6-1) and Bastia (4-1) in August. What followed was less convincing. Following their first home defeat in 30 games against Monaco (1-3) the French champions found themselves tenth on the ladder, already six points from co-leaders Auxerre and Nice. Luckily the team did not take long to react and with a first away win of the season at Rennes (1-0, Week 10) OL put together a six-game unbeaten run – five wins and a draw – that saw them close in on the leaders with a thrilling victory over Bordeaux (4-2, Week 15).
Two games later and with the home win over Strasbourg (2-1), OL would move into top spot for the first time that season. Enter the first flash-back, but not the last. It was in Paris that Sonny Anderson and co. would defend their new found leadership... just like the season before. And just like the 2001-02 season, OL would not conserve their number one spot. In fact it was worse as, beaten at the Parc des Princes (0-2), OL seemed to run out of gas and twice threw away leads in the dying seconds against Montpellier (1-1) and Sedan (1-1). Winter was to prove particularly harsh for Paul Le Guen’s side who would win just two of the next seven games including a demoralising loss to Monaco (0-2) in Week 26.
Watching the gap grow to the leaders, OL seemed to be losing the battle to defend its title. Yet the team had learnt a lot from the preceding season. And the experiences of the previous 12 months would prove invaluable during the Olympians incredible charge down the home straight. Adopting a 4-2-3-1 formation and the return of Sonny Anderson from three months on the sideline OL would see OL string together six wins on the trot. OL would register crucial wins against Nice and, just like the season before, Auxerre and Bordeaux, to finds themselves back in the driving seat. From then on it seemed only Monaco could ruin Les Gones’ dreams of back-to-back crowns, but during the penultimate round of matches, the battle would finally end in Lyon’s favour. Thanks to a goal from Juninho, capping off a superb year for the Brazilian in which he finish club top scorer with 13 goals, OL claimed a draw with Montpellier while Monaco crashed out at Guingamp.
Another magnificent domestic campaign also helped Les Gones forget a season of frustration in the various cup competitions, beginning with the Champions League. Capable of the exceptional and the very ordinary, OL would miss out on qualifying for the second group stage. All the same, Lyon seemed well on the way to success with two games left in the first group stage, thanks to a 5-0 thumping of Rosenborg and above all against Inter Milan. Sonny Anderson and co. raised their game to a level rarely seen to win 2-1 at the San Siro before claiming a pulsating 3-3 draw at the Stade Gerland. Unfortunately, a double defeat at the hands of Ajax (1-2 and 0-2) and a final day draw against Rosenborg (1-1) would scupper Lyon’s dreams in Europe’s premier club competition. It could easily have been a different story in a group that also contained a future quarter-finalist and semi-finalist: indeed Sonny Anderson scored a perfectly legal goal in the return leg against Ajax that would have changed the game…
The third place finish saw the French champions rediscover the UEFA Cup. But even there, disappointment was there to meet them. OL bowed out to modest Turkish side Denizlispor, beaten in the return leg at Gerland (1-0 and 0-0) despite racking up an incredible 37 shots on target!
To confirm the trend, Les Gones would were dumped out of the Coupe de la Ligue in the second round by Sochaux after a first round defeat to Libourne (0-1) in the Coupe de France.
But there was always the league, which was the number one goal, all along. And in the league, OL demonstrated an incredible to desire to become the first side since Marseile, 11 years earlier, to win defend their championship title. An amazing achievement that confirmed the prophecy of Louis Nicollin, President of Montpellier, who said: “OL will become the team of the new millennium.” At the end of another remarkable season, brought to a close on May 24 on the balcony of Town Hall… just like 12 months earlier.
[IMG30001#L]Unfortunately, the club will always remember this end of season for the tragic death of Marc-Vivien Foé. The Indomitable Lion is sleeping peacefully. No-one will forget the warmth of this kind-hearted boy...
Top scorer: Juninho (13)League: 1st of 20 (Qualification for the Champions League)
Coupe de France: Eliminated in the rd-of-64 by Libourne (1-0)
Coupe de la Ligue: Eliminated in the rd-of-32 by Sochaux (3-3, 5-3 on penalties)
Champions League: Eliminated in the first group stage
UEFA Cup: Eliminated in the rd-of-16 by Denizlispor (1-1 and 0-0)