Interview with Jean-Michel Aulas
Is the podium still in play for OL ?
Yes, of course, and I remain firmly convinced that we can do it, even if it will be difficult. Marseille's victory last night (against Lille) - who we have just beaten in the Coupe de France - positions us too far from 2nd place, which obviously makes this objective difficult to achieve from now on.
However, it should be noted that Olympique de Marseille did not play in Europe this year, which gave it a definite advantage in the championship and they also went into the red again on their economic plan relative to the FFP (the newspaper L'Equipe asserted a few days ago that their operating deficit over two years was greater than 170 M €!), unlike OL which has a strong financial structure and guarantees its participation in case of qualification for the European Cup and sustainability for all its supporters.
However, in this draw against Strasbourg who, let us remember, are a very good team and remain on a very strong run, we must, along with the negative, see also the positive: this weekend, we took back 1 point on Rennes and Lille who will be our competitors in the final sprint for 3rd place.
We are 7 points from 3rd place. There are 13 matchdays left with 39 points at stake, so everything is obviously possible. This will require that everyone pulls in the same direction, that the staff and all the players work together, and that there must be a strong union of all those who come to the stadium and who support OL, and in this, I am convinced, we can achieve a very great end of the season.
Does this draw against Strasbourg echo the result against Amiens, which also sparked comments from those who had seen it?
Obviously, we had other hopes for the result in the two games mentioned. But Strasbourg also have had a good season and stayed on two consecutive victories. Amiens have also just drawn against PSG who are preparing for their Champions League match: these are the levels of our adversaries and must be taken into account. If we take a step back, we have just played, since January 4, our 12th match in a row, which means that we have played more than all the other teams (except PSG), and in any case we have played a game every three and a half days since returning from the winter break.
This was obviously not the case for all of our opponents who had often had more preparation than us to play their games, especially those against us. In this 12-game series, we recorded 8 wins against 2 draws and 2 losses, including one at the Parc des Princes in a very spectacular match which invalidates what some may say, namely that OL are not playing well! We have also been criticized for not winning against the teams that are ahead of us in the standings, but we just beat Marseille, eliminated Lille and we also went away to win in Bordeaux and Nantes.
In addition to the calendar, this season OL has had to deal with major injuries and disruptions to the squad.
We had to deal with mounting injuries to some of our best players, all of them internationals. Memphis and Jeff were injured in the same match, which is incredible. I’ve never seen that in 32 years in the presidency.
We also lost the French and Malian internationals, Léo Dubois and Youssouf Koné. We also lost our 5th central defender - Oumar Solet, also an international at the youth levels (under 19). It should be remembered that the results of a football match can be random, because it is the very principle of the game that fascinates all manner of supporters, the most informed as well as the least informed, and everyone imagines themselves to be right, because a simulation of a team’s eleven in an imagined match gives no certainty as to the improvement of the result compared to a real match.
Luck or bad luck sometimes disrupts this idea of logic, and this is what makes football so interesting. We must have the humility to recognise that before the end of the championship or a Cup (whether national or European), we cannot draw definitive conclusions.
Football being a game, it is unhealthy to draw conclusions about pride, the honour of players or a club if they do not reach their goals, and in any case, changes in organisation to the team or squad are idealized at 13 matches from the end of the season.
The economic power of OL in dealing with this series of incredible injuries, allowed us to invest in the context of this crisis more than 50 M € during this winter transfer window, and there has been more than 150 M € invested over the course of the season on ten players. We had a very good period throughout the month of January which has allowed the club to remain involved in all competitions, something only PSG has done, and they with revenues more than twice that of OL!
To compensate for the injuries to our key players and international players, we had to find the right compromise between strengthening the team and allowing chances to be given to our young players (Académy OL is the 3rd in Europe behind Barça and Real Madrid and remains qualified both in the Youth League and in the Coupe Gambardella). Rudi has managed to support the emergence of young talents like Maxence Caqueret and Rayan Cherki, without forgetting the conditions necessary for Amine Gouiri to return to his best level after a very serious injury.
Also, to strengthen the team, we oversaw the arrivals of Karl Toko Ekambi and Bruno Guimaraes, while preparing for the future with the recruitments of Tino Kadewere and Camilo. It was therefore difficult to resolve the integration of all these players; this had to be combined with the frantic pace of the matches, which could seriously handicap our team.
I am attentive to everything that is said, but remain convinced that we are going to get back on a winning run, and I need, for this, the support of all those who love OL. Systematic and unnecessary pressure on players only makes the challenges in reaching an optimal level of performance more complex. I have full confidence in the coach’s experience and technical and tactical quality. There is also a certain collective investment by most players. Karl has already bee very successful. Bruno will bring a lot to us, and we will soon see the returns of Léo and Youssouf for the final sprint in February and March, with an intensity rarely seen at the Groupama Stadium.
Many critics speak about the quality of play…
Although our performance in the league has not lived up to our expectations, hopes for an exceptional season in terms of results remain possible. The quality of play and the team’s collective understanding are impacted by the fixture list and especially by the fatigue generated by it.
We just played 12 games in 43 days, and it's not something which has a neutral effect. The accumulated fatigue, both physical and psychological, influences the mental and positive dynamics of the players. It is important to keep in mind two important things: we have the third best attack in the championship with 38 goals scored and a goal difference of + 12, and to date we have won all of our elimination matches, which explains why we are still in all competitions.
We will learn all the lessons at the end of the season depending on the results. Support is what is necessary to allow us to reach the objectives, we have never seen a team win against the will of part of its supporters, even a minority.
I told the players, the most important thing is the next match. The objective of going up the table is as important as winning a trophy again, and if we have built all of this: OL City, Groupama Center and Groupama Stadium, it is with the goal of goinf serenely and inevitably to the highest level; we came up from the middle of the second division to go to the first division, then we won the titles (19 titles since 1987), to finally regularly play in the European Cups with semifinals of the Champions League and Europa League and 7 quarterfinals combined in the Europa League and Champions League (since 1987 too)!
We also talk about the crowds at Groupama Stadium ...
We have again recorded the second largest attendance average as of mid-season, behind Marseille who have a much larger stadium, with an average of 48,635 spectators which is more than 50% higher than the numbers we achieved in Gerland.
In the Champions League, the number of spectators from last season has already been exceeded. We can expect for the Derby, the reception of Juventus, and then the semifinal of the Coupe de France against Paris Saint Germain, several capacity crowds in a very short time.
Precisely, several big matches are looming in the coming weeks ...
We need everyone. The role of the 12th man will be decisive and the players, as well as the staff and the directors need to be buoyed by the fans’ dynamic, especially when the national media - who all have their headquarters in Paris - have deliberately chosen sides. So we are going to string together several very high level matches at Groupama Stadium.
We will have to play before the end of the season our direct competitors, Lille, Rennes, Monaco and Montpellier, and the difference can be made in these games. We are going to play the Coupe de la Ligue final on April 4 and since 2014, we have not had this opportunity. We can take all of the Lyon supporters with us to the Stade de France. We’ll also have the Coupe de France semifinal against PSG, here at Groupama Stadium, which will give us the opportunity to make the end of the season exciting.
OL will be play for a part of its future in this end to the season?
It is not the future of the club that is at stake, because the financial results of OL can allow us to overcome a sporting uncertainty, but we will do everything to qualify again for a European place. And it this is obviously desirable. Our economic and sporting model is virtuous, because we have been able to diversify our sources of income and OL's constant innovation means that it does not have its knife at its throat every game.
At this moment, we have qualified on all fronts, in the Round of 16 in the Champions League, to the final of the Coupe de la Ligue and we are still alive in the Coupe de France. This is also the case for the women and the youth sides. The U19s are playing in the Youth League against Atalanta and the Gambardella against PSG on Saturday. The stakes are really worth it, the exhaustive support of all those who love OL and who want to experience such exciting seasons, despite some temporary setbacks common to all teams, even the largest, requires us to stay together and not to give our opponents the opportunity to destabilize us.