Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon reacts after scoring a goal in a Ligue 1 match in January against Lens. Francois Lo Presti / AFP / January 17, 2015
Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon reacts after scoring a goal in a Ligue 1 match in January against Lens. Francois Lo Presti / AFP / January 17, 2015

Lyon’s Ligue 1 revival can continue, but club need hang onto Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir

After several years of decline, the future looks bright for Lyon with an exciting young team, a return to the Champions League and the prospect of a move into a new stadium next season.

However, whether the seven-time French champions can maintain their revival will depend on their ability to keep hold of their biggest assets, notably Ligue 1 player of the year Alexandre Lacazette and young player of the year Nabil Fekir.

Hubert Fournier’s side pushed overwhelming favourites Paris Saint-Germain almost all the way in the race for the title, only seeing their dream of a first Ligue 1 crown since 2008 ended with a game to spare.

Nevertheless, second place was their best performance since 2010 and better than most fans would have hoped for last summer, when the highly-respected Remi Garde departed following the club’s worst finish – fifth – in 16 years.

His replacement Fournier had done an excellent job in leading Reims back into the top flight and keeping them there, but few expected him to lead Lyon into the Champions League.

“I’ve got a few ideas and a different methodology, and my arrival should allow a new impetus at the club – and change a few old habits,” he said after being unveiled, but Lyon lost three of their first four matches.

With playmaker Clement Grenier struggling with his fitness and the injury-prone Yoann Gourcuff still unable to put a run of games together, Fournier’s squad looked ill-equipped to compete.

However, they somehow emerged as title challengers, thanks largely to a run of 10 consecutive home wins and the form of Lacazette and Fekir.

Lacazette scored 27 league goals, a club record in a league campaign, while Fekir had scored 13 and set up nine more before the final game of the season at Rennes, breaking into the France squad as a result.

With other home-reared stars like goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, Samuel Umtiti, captain Maxime Gonalons, Jordan Ferri and Corentin Tolisso, Lyon were a joy to watch at times and can now prepare for Champions League football next season.

They will go straight into the group stage for the first time since 2011/12, although they are likely to be in the third pot of seeds.

"We are going to draw some really big teams. But that doesn't scare me," captain Gonalons told sports daily L'Equipe last week.

“All season, watching the Champions League on television and hearing the music, I have thought about getting back into it and reliving it all. We have been away from it for too long.”

The prize money that comes with playing in the Champions League will help the finances of a club who recorded another big loss last season of more than EU€26 million (Dh105m).

That will give them a chance of keeping hold of their best players, despite interest from elsewhere.

"We need to keep the majority of the players. But we will need to improve the contracts of two or three of them," former Lyon striker Bernard Lacombe, now an advisor to president Jean-Michel Aulas, told L'Equipe.

He was certainly referring to Lacazette and Fekir, who has yet to agree terms on a new deal since emerging as a genuine star this season, although his agent Jean-Pierre Bernes has publicly encouraged him to stay put.

However, Gourcuff will leave with his contract ending, while Gonalons says he is staying and hopes his colleagues will too.

A long-awaited move into a new 60,000-seat stadium will come at the turn of next year, and Aulas needs as good a team as possible on the pitch in order to fill seats.

But it is quite possible that Lyon’s star players will not want to risk moving away this summer and thereby potentially jeopardising their chances of featuring for France on home soil at Euro 2016.

“The club is in a better position to resist, but of course we can’t stop a big offer coming in. But we need to be ready for a difficult next season. We will be playing every three days so we will need to keep everyone,” Gonalons said.

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