Unlike the rest of the world, I don’t have a problem with the French. On the contrary: cheese, champagne, wine, croques, filet américain, baguette; you name it and I will gladly eat it from their cuisine. Well, maybe not escargots, those are gross. Unless I’m really drunk from all the wine and champagne tasting.
Paris, Nice, Lille are lovely cities, Lourdes is sacred ground and you can’t beat their southern climate and joie de vivre. Like the USA, they have a history with crazy presidents. Every year there’s a media circus called le Tour de France, a cycling race with amazing vistas of castles, valleys, and small, romantic villages. Really, if you visit France just once, you might as well pass by Belgium and taste some of our beer, chocolate, and waffles. It’s a win-win.
Sorry if you’re all hungry by now. We’ll talk football soon, I promise.
Back in 2005-2006, I was already a Giallorosso through and through (see, I promised you) and was busy living through a typical Roman rollercoaster season in Serie A. Some poor results like a 3-2 defeat to Ascoli, 1-2 loss against Palermo, and the 1-4 drubbing versus Juventus were mixed with an amazing 11-match win streak (the 11th win was a 0-2 against Lazio, lovely). There was also the transfer ban after the whole Mexes-Auxerre affair. Roma ended fifth but after the Calciopoli scandal the Serie A table turned upside down and Roma suddenly found itself in second place and qualified for the Champions League.
In 2005-2006, Roma would play in the UEFA Cup (remember the defeat vs Middlesbrough, of all teams? Yeah, good times) so when I watched some CL games, I shifted my attention to other interesting teams. Well, one team in particular: Olympique Lyon. Who had amazing kits, the French flag combo white-red-blue was perfect—it's a shame about the Renault logo though, terrible cars.
Anyway, Lyon was already the best of the best in France, winning La Ligue 1 four consecutive times since 2002. But from time to time they also excelled in Europe. In 2005, they topped a CL group that included Real Madrid, Rosenborg, and Olympakios with a massive 16 (!) points.
They beat the crap out of PSV in the next round (5-0 aggregate) and they were on the verge of the semi-final if not for two late goals in AC Milan from Inzaghi and Shevchenko. In other words: Lyon was a powerhouse in Europe. The season before they also won their group and reached the quarter-finals. Who can forget the masterclass vs Werder Bremen? 0-3 away and 7-2 at home. Also narrowly eliminated by PSV on penalties then.
In 2006 Lyon comfortably won La Ligue 1 for a fifth consecutive time, with 84 points. A huge gap between them and challenger Bordeaux, who were 15 points behind. PSG didn’t even end in the top 6 back then. Olympique would go on to win a sixth and seventh title in a row with Bordeaux ending their reign in 2009.
Now, who featured in this Lyon 2005-2006 team exactly?
Well not midfielder Essien or forwards Frau and Nilmar, they were sold/loaned out. Lyon did have a tonload of French talent in its team: Wiltord, Coupet, Malouda, Abidal, Benzema, Govou, Ben Arfa, Réveillère, Clerc, need I go on? That’s practically half of the French NT. Compare it with Italy’s NT and Juventus’ supremacy in Serie A.
But there were also stars on the squad who didn’t speak French. The best one? Midfield maestro/magician Juninho, free-kick specialist and the closest thing to Francesco Totti since God who created the universe back in... well, someday before Jesus Christ was born.
Michael Essien may have left, but with enforcers Diarra, Tiago (from Chelsea), and wingers Malouda, Wiltord, and Govou, Lyon’s midfield was out of this world and had more than enough firepower. Prodigies Benzema and Ben Arfa were on the bench, ready to grab their chance.
There was also one familiar face: Norwegian oak John Carew, who played a couple of games for AS Roma two years before. A not-so-successful spell—he did better at Lyon. The other striker upfront was Brazilian Fred, a quick, agile forward who curiously never joined a second top European side in his career. Lyon was his only stop in Europe.
Gregory Coupet was both Lyon and France’s top goalkeeper, a more than decent shot-stopper. I remember I was jealous of his hair, he and Mexes would have been a great pair of 70s disco singers.
In defense, there was the rock-solid Cris, AKA his Brazilian baldness, and captain Caçapa, a fellow Brazilian countryman. The backs were all French: the afforementioned Clerc and Reveillère at RB, on LB there were Berthod and Abidal.
After their record run in La Ligue, Lyon has gone quite AWOL, to be honest. They haven’t won a single title since 2008 but did finish second on three occasions. They won one French cup and Supercup, that’s all. Their best result was not so long ago, just last year, in fact, when they played the semi-final in a COVID-19 special edition of the Champions League. They beat both Juventus and Manchester City in the knockouts. However, they were no match for Bayern, which is no shame.
Today there’s still some pretty decent talent at Lyon: Aouar, Marcelo, Dubois, Paqueta, and Cherki continue the fine history of Brazilian and French talents in the southeast of France, while Depay and Ekambi can terrorize every defense in Europe. Of course, there’s your obligatory Belgian guy on the team as well, CB Jason Denayer. Can’t go out of the house without one, can you? And would you look at that, isn’t that good old Rudi Garcia leading the troops nowadays! How are those violin lessons going, Rudi?
Still, that Lyon team mid-2000s remains really special and unique. Even though Roma didn’t hang out with Europe’s best that year, Lyon certainly soothed the pain.
Olympique, c’était magnifique!