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Lyon set to miss out on Europe as new era begins

Lyon face Monaco on Friday. Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP

As they head into a new era off the pitch, a disappointing season on it means Lyon, formerly French football’s dominant force, are set to miss out on European qualification once again.

With just three games of the Ligue 1 campaign remaining, including Friday’s meeting with Monaco, Lyon are seventh, four points adrift of even a qualifying berth for next season’s Europa Conference League.

A club who played in Europe in 23 consecutive seasons, culminating in their run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2020, are now set for a third campaign in four years without being involved in continental competition.

A decline has set in on the banks of the Rhone at what was once France’s model club, champions seven years running between 2002 and 2008.

The appointment of Laurent Blanc as coach earlier this season, after a poor start, has not been enough to lift OL back to what they see as their rightful place after they came a disappointing eighth last year.

The return of local hero Alexandre Lacazette has been a success, with the striker netting 25 Ligue 1 goals since rejoining from Arsenal, and yet Lyon are simply not the force they once were.

“Europe is bust,” admitted France’s 1998 World Cup winner Blanc after last week’s 2-1 defeat at modest Clermont.

“If the players don’t agree with me, they will have to prove me wrong. And I will be very happy to be wrong,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

In December, Lyon were taken over by American businessman John Textor and his company Eagle Football.

Jean-Michel Aulas, the emblematic Lyon president who had been at the helm since 1987, initially stayed in his role but the man who built the modern club departed earlier this month.

Textor now has a clear path to shape the club in his own way, and he is expected to make sweeping changes to the scouting department, although Blanc looks set to stay as coach.

This week saw another major change, with the new owners agreeing to sell a controlling stake in Lyon’s highly successful women’s team — record eight-time Champions League winners — to US entrepreneur Michele Kang.

It remains to be seen what the future holds for what was once a footballing force to be reckoned with in the European men’s game.

“This season is the end of an era, and another one begins in June,” said Blanc. “We will need to go into it with ambition.”

Player to watch: Mostafa Mohamed

The Egyptian striker did not play for Nantes in their 0-0 draw at Toulouse last weekend in a protest against an anti-homophobia campaign across Ligue 1.

“Given my roots, my culture, the importance of my convictions and beliefs, it was not possible for me to participate in this campaign,” he wrote on Twitter after refusing to wear a jersey with the numbers in the colours of the rainbow.

Mohamed was fined by his club, but is expected to be back in the team for Saturday’s game against Montpellier. Nantes will need the on-loan Galatasaray player, who has scored 11 goals this season, as they look to climb out of the relegation zone.

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