FEATURE | Peter Bosz at Lyon: A Problem of Inconsistency or Adversity?

A tumultuous relationship between Lyon fans and previous coach Rudi Garcia meant it was vitally important that president Jean-Michel Aulas and then sporting director Juninho got the next managerial appointment right. Juninho sympathised with the Brazilian style of football, ‘Jogo Bonito’ – the beautiful game – which meant the new coach must view the game similarly. Aulas, in contrast, has famously opted for French speaking managers. Finding a coach that met both criteria proved difficult.

Attempts to lure Christophe Galtier from champions Lille failed as he preferred the project presented by OGC Nice. Eventually, Juninho and the board were able to settle on Peter Bosz. Bosz seemed a good fit; he famously adopts a high tempo pressing game with an emphasis on attack while three years playing for Toulon also meant he spoke French. The appointment was greeted with optimism and excitement from Lyon fans and across the French game after the Dutchman’s impressive stints at Ajax and Bayer Leverkusen.

Bosz’s philosophy requires a particular type of player, and he highlighted his former goalkeeper André Onana and former-Zenit striker Sardar Azmoun as primary transfer targets. However, like much of OL’s transfer dealing this season, both pursuits rumbled on but neither were successful. The club, nevertheless, did manage to bring in some experience with a winning mentality – Emerson Palmieri, Xherdan Shaqiri and Jérôme Boateng. All three looked to be positive additions, in the short term. However, the failure to acquire Bosz’s key targets made his job more difficult, as two points from his first three games showed A 1-1 draw with Brest and a 3-0 hammering at Angers bordered on embarrassing for a Champions League hopeful.

The latter saw the end of defender Marcelo and left-sided player Maxwell Cornet’s Lyon careers, with ill-discipline playing a part in both exits. Cornet was sent off and ultimately never played for the club again after completing a move to Burnley. Red cards have been common theme for OL this season with Les Gones receiving six in all, but Marcelo’s issues sparked talks of further disciplinary issues within. After arguably one of the worst performances of his Lyon career, Marcelo “smirked” at newly appointed captain Léo Dubois during post-match discussions. He was reprimanded and sent to the reserves before joining Bordeaux for free in January.

Fan discipline has also been a concern. The Olympico derby with Marseille is always filled with tension but things got out of hand as a bottle thrown from the stands hit Dimitri Payet and saw the game abandoned and Lyon deducted a point. Similar off field antics took place in a cup match with Paris FC – both teams kicked out of the competition. Problems in the stands have been commonplace across France this season, but they have had an especially detrimental effect on Lyon’s season.

Meanwhile, the poor start brought questions over Bosz’s suitability. Performances have improved generally but domestic inconsistencies made signs of progression difficult to find. Convincing victories and impressive performances against Monaco and Strasbourg were contrasted by two borderline embarrassing results against Rennes and Nice. However, Europa League performances under Bosz have been a shining light. OL finished top of an admittedly kind group featuring Rangers, Brondby and Sparta Prague, with five wins. But, at times, there was also a notable difference in style with a bigger emphasis on possession and counter pressing – something largely missing in Ligue 1.

A fractious season looked to be continuing into 2022 as Juninho unexpectedly left on sour terms. Someone with his aurora and influence departing in such circumstances was little help to a club looking to conduct business at an important time of the season. Fans have started to lose patience with Aulas over ‘old-fashioned’ decisions and the difficulty Juninho reportedly had in fulfilling his role. The worst was yet to come as midfield maestro Bruno Guimarães left for Newcastle United. The €48m deal was too good to turn down but created unease with just three days left in the window to find a replacement.

Tanguy Ndombele’s record breaking 2019 transfer from Lyon to Tottenham had underwhelmed but a move back to familiar surroundings for a fresh start appears to make perfect sense as Guimarães’ replacement. The French international’s ball playing progressive style fits nicely with the pressing and energetic qualities of Maxence Caqueret in a double pivot. As a recent midfield masterclass against Galtier’s Nice shows. Ndombele is revered by OL fans and his return has taken some of the heat off Aulas but he’s only a short term solution as his €60m option to buy is surely unattainable.

Romain Faivre’s €15m arrival from Brest did show more future planning, however, as a perfect replacement for Houssem Aouar who looks increasing likely to leave in the summer. With his goal scoring prowess, an ability to feature in wide and central attacking midfield roles and creative dynamism that has caused many a team problems in Ligue 1, his signing seems to fit OL like a glove. The combination of Faivre, Lucas Paquetá, Aouar and Karl Toko-Ekambi makes OL strong in attacking areas for the rest of the season.

These signings appear to have resulted in a lift of mood at Groupama Stadium. A grit and determination to prove people wrong was shown in a brilliant 2-1 win against Marseille. Paquetá, Aouar and others were unavailable but a thin squad was inspired by Xherdan Shaqiri and Moussa Dembélé’s entrance to an unlikely victory.

Before the departure of Guimarães, results weren’t convincing but carried an improved air of consistency. These included a hard fought 1-1 draw with PSG and narrow wins over Troyes and local rivals Saint-Étienne. But 2022 has seen a promising start and spirits lifted, and concerns after Monaco convincingly beat Bosz’s men at Stade Louis II were alleviated by victory over Galtier’s Nice in Lyon’s best performance of the season. With a high intensity press, dominance of possession, attractive and fluid attacking transitions and solidity at the back, OL finally looked like a Bosz team.

It may be too early to say whether Bosz is too inconsistent to ever be a true success at OL or if adverse circumstances have simply made his job much more difficult than was expected. However, if Lyon can build upon this decent run, especially the display against Nice, the Dutchman could still be the man to take OL forward. Despite two seemingly smart new signings, there’s still work to do for Aulas, the recruitment team and the board if they’re to ease fears over the club’s direction, however. Only time will tell, but 2022 has finally given fans of Les Gones some hope that Bosz may actually be the right man for the job.

Liam Wraith

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