Masculins / The presidents

Jean-Michel Aulas

Publié le 23 mars 2004 à 11:43:40
An insatiable builder

His motto is -and always was- ' Patience and time on our side ': "We were certain to snatch some titles one day, with this way of operating, but we did not know when..." he claimed a few hours before the 2002 French championship final.

A sentence which encapsulates the trademark of the OL president: a mixture of ambition and audacity, which never forgets neither hard work nor modernism. And so be it if this ruffles a few feathers!

"We will be European in three years", claimed he to general surprise as his team surfaced at the forefront of the elite of French football, at the end of the Eighties. "We are gunning for the title", he hammers at each start of the season, once the OL has qualified for a European place. Then he claims: "The objective is to win the UEFA Cup", immediately after the OL's elimination from the Champions League - in short, the president of the OL is insatiable.

Inevitably, when wishful thinking slightly differs from reality, the wisecrack of being the "Poulidor of French football" is bound to flourish. To which he replies straight back: "If we can have the popularity of ' Poupou' and Anquetil's palmares, count me in".

And this is Jean-Michel Aulas, a "schemer" according to his foes, a "visionary" for his friends. He will tell you that, as befits a worthy Managing Director, he must always think "one step ahead of the game" and that he is "very hungry for success and victories". In any case, if the OL is today a club that deserves the respect of all and the jealousy of some, it owes is to its president, who took on the ambition of a whole city and the dream of thousands of supporters.

Handball, actually, was his original passion, but football and OL were to become his raison d'être ever since this spring of 1987, when the "tiny factory manager on the rise, always on the rise..." took control, under the advice of a certain Bernard Tapie (then president of the OM), of the reins of a club which was, at the time, languishing in the 2nd division.

With him at its helm, the OL was to go its own way, slowly but surely, encountering at each stage a lesson that enabled it to go a little bit further: "Jean-Michel Aulas always sort of had this visionary side to him", recalls Bernard Lacombe. "I remember that ever since the end of the 1980's, he assured me that the OL would have its own television. At the time, it was unthinkable. "

"You need to know what you want", the ' Pres' -as he is called within the club- likes to say. "And it is true that climbing the Annapurna is more dangerous than a modest mountain. Our progression is a steady one, and the risk to do less well increases each year. But we chose to look ahead, very thoughtfully. "

Jean-Michel Aulas thus goes on about his business, gradually building, without ever forgetting the founding principle: manage as a good father would, always calculating more than once the risks incurred! When he manages to get Sonny Anderson in June 1999 for nearly 18 million Euros, he already knows that this gamble will prove successful, because he sensed that the Brazilian has the aura necessary to push the OL even higher.

When he becomes in 1987 the owner of the OL, the club – rich of three full-time and one part-time staff! - has a budget of 2,29 million Euros, with a chronic deficit of more than one million Euro!

Sixteen years later, boasting the services of a hundred employees, the club crosses the threshold of the 100 million, with eight consecutive positive financial results! The epoch when the OL had to yield its best player, Laurent Fournier (who earned 60.000 F per month) to the ASSE is well and truly gone... And if Lyon is not any more in the shade of Saint-Etienne in football matters, it is thanks to this man, unceasingly in search of challenges, who never hesitates to face the heat, when danger threatens. On match evenings, he always faces the reporters' questions, whether dithyrambic (Inter Milan – Lyon), …or not exactly as pleasing (after Maribor, Bremen, Denizli, Liberec …). And this may well be his method: to know when to keep a stiff upper lip, face the storms and protect the group, without ever going overboard. Bernard Lacombe, Jacques Santini or Paul Guen can testify to it, having enjoyed the ever public support of the "Big Boss" despite occasional hiccups. Because JMA, let it be said, “does not go through” coaches like there is not tomorrow.

With the first two Champion titles and the League Cup in 2001 under his belt, he can boast over the rooftops the status of heading the most consistent French club on the European scene, with a fourth straight participation to the Champions League. A national record.

‘Re-gu-la-ri-ty': one of the ‘boss''s main buzzwords. Regularity for the sake of the club: "the Champions League, and the income it generates, is essential to grow each year", he insists, even if he knows that he gets up some people's noses: those who prefer to highlight the purely sportive aspect of this competition.

"I am still very hungry", he repeats, facing the horizon. Is the sky the limit? Such as…: the European Cup? "We are able to win it one day", he likes to daydream, thereby incurring the risk of getting ridiculed by those who deem him pretentious. But this is Jean-Michel Aulas: an eternal insatiable builder...