There are several sides that have tried to conquer French football and few have been as successful as that as Olympique Lyonnais. Lyon’s success has varied throughout the years although L’OL’s string of titles in the 2000s remains their most dominant period. This comes alongside several successful stints in the Coupe De France including several major wins during the 1960s and 1970s. A lot of this success has been achieved by harnessing impressive home-grown talent and through the injection of international stars. However, who has the skills and reputation required to make it into Lyon’s greatest XI?
GK: Gregory Coupet
It’s kind of ironic to think that one of the architects of Lyon’s greatest era came from their arch-rivals. Yet this was the case with Gregory Coupet. Coupet joined Lyon in 1997 from arch-rivals Saint-Etienne and wowed Lyon fans with his lightning-quick reactions and overall fearlessness. It would be these traits that made him the club’s number one for much of the 2000s where Lyon dominated Ligue 1. Coupet would be part of 7 title wins before joining Atletico Madrid in 2008. His actions were always well-recognized in French football having won 4 consecutive Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year awards from 2002-2005. Proof that Coupet’s actions were integral to the success of Lyon’s endless title streak.
RB: Anthony Reveillere
When Lyon needed someone to patrol the right side of defence, they often looked to Anthony Reveillere at the height of their success. Reveillere was no slouch when it came to pace and also had excellent technique when making long passes from wide positions. It was an ability that cemented his place within the team after joining from Rennes in 2003. From here, he hardly missed a game for the club as he helped Lyon amass domestic dominance for much of the 2000s. This helped in win no less than 5 Ligue 1 titles with the club as well as 2 French Cup successes. His own efforts were underlined with a nomination in the 2010-2011 Ligue 1 Team of the Year award. He eventually left to join Napoli in 2013 after making over 300 appearances for the club across all competitions.
LB: Raymond Domenech
Before he become a prolific manager, Raymond Domenech enjoyed much success as a player. The core of this success came with Lyon who he starred with much of the 1970s. After rising through the ranks of Lyon’s youth system in 1969, Domenech quickly stood out due to his tactical awareness and strong command when on the pitch. He became a part of a team that excelled in cup competitions where they won the 1973 Coupe De France final and appeared in two more finals in 1971 and 1976. Domenech left the club in 1977 to join Racing Strasbourg but that came after making 250 appearances for the club.
CB: Ljubomir Mihajlovic
There were few foreign enforcers in French football in the 1970s so Ljubomir Mihajlovic caused quite a shock when he shone at the Stade De Gerland. When he joined from Partizan Belgrade in 1970s, Mihajlovic was a player that could not be beaten in a one-on-one duel. It was this reason that made him a big part of a Lyon that won both the 1973 French Cup and French Champions Trophy. These skills made him one of the club’s first foreign stars and he remained at the club for 7 seasons during the 1970s. He eventually left in 1977 having made over 230 appearances for L’OL.
Even if Cris may not have had the reputation of other Brazilian defenders, he was still one of the best defenders of his time. The steely centre-back had shone for Cruzeiro in the early 2000s before moving to Lyon in 2004. From here, Cris showed his immense timing and anticipation as well as underrated aerial abilities for a player of his size. It was all these skills that saw him named club captain in 2007 where he lifted the trophy after Lyon won Ligue 1 in both 2007 and 2008. His consistency earned him three Ligue 1 Team of the Year nominations showcasing his dedication to his craft. Cris eventually left the club in 2012 to join Turkish side Galatasaray but not before leaving his own mark on French football.
CM: Serge Chiesa
French football was thriving with technical maestros in the 1970s but few could weave through players quite like Serge Chiesa. Chiesa was at the heart of Lyon’s success in the 1970s where his jinking runs and deft flicks were able to cause havoc as they pressed forward against opposition. It was why he was a big part of the side that won the 1973 French Cup final and saw the side push towards the top half of the Ligue 1 table during the 1970s. Chiesa would go onto score 120 goals in over 400 games for the club before leaving 1983 where joined US Orleans towards the end of his career. An enigmatic star who excelled in years gone by.
Through much of Lyon’s success in the 2000s, there was only one man at the heart of every devastating move: Juninho. The Brazilian playmaker was deadly when the ball was at his feet able to make sly passes, unleash devastating shots and always look to drive the game forward. And there was also his free-kicks. Arguably one of the best free kick takers of all time, Juninho could lash home dead ball strikes from anywhere on the pitch. With almost little motion on the ball, it left keepers with no chance of stopping his powerful strikes. Alongside winning 7 Ligue 1 titles, Juninho’s own accolades were abundant too with 3xLigue 1 Team of the Year nominations as well as winning the 2006 Ligue 1 Player of the Year award. After leaving to join Qatari side Al-Gharafa in 2009, the Brazilian returned after his retirement to become Lyon’s sporting director in 2019.
CM: Sidney Govou
For much of his career, Sidney Govou could be relied upon to cause havoc within the attacking half of any team. Capable of playing as an attacking midfielder or a winger, Govou used his rapid pace to dart into defences without anyone stopping him. His all-round abilities meant he always could contribute at key moments and it was why he was part of 7 Ligue 1 title winning sides. Furthermore, he also scored the winning goal in the 2008 Coupe De France final helping them secure the club’s first ever domestic double. During his decade long run with the club, Govou scored 50 goals in over 250 matches for the club.
FW: Alex Lacazette
For much of Alexandre Lacazette’s career, he has been the talisman for his hometown side Lyon. Lacazette’s ability to finish well under pressure as well as help link up attacks has made him a vital cog for L’OL during much of the 2010s. He proved this by slamming in goals with relative ease including a career-best 28 goals in 30 games during the 2016-17 season. During his first stint with the club, this resulted in 129 goals for the side over a 7-year period. After leaving to join English side Arsenal in 2017, Lacazette returned to Lyon in 2022 and scoring 20 goals in his return to the club. His form at Lyon has brought plenty of awards to the French international including being named 2015 Ligue 1 Player of the Year as well as the 2015 Onze de Bronze award. A modern day legend for the side.
FW: Bernard Lacombe
During much of Lyon’s success sin the 1970s, they could always rely on one man to put the ball in the back of the net: Bernard Lacombe. Capable of scoring from anywhere in the area, Lacombe was never fazed when bearing down on goal. He would net 20+ goal tallies in three separate occasions for Lyon with a best of 24 in 33 games during the 1977-78 season. After scoring over 128 goals for L’OL, he would leave to join arch-rivals Saint-Etienne in 1978 before enjoying more success with Bordeaux for much of the 1980s. Despite this, Lacombe is still well-revered by Lyon fans to this very day.
FW: Fleury Di Nallo
Lyon’s first taste of success came through their French Cup successes in the 1960s and 1970s and most of that was down to the goals of Fleury Di Nallo. Always up for the big matches, Di Nallo could always find the net when it counted to help bring silverware to the club. This included scoring in the 1967 Cup final as well as being captain for their third success in 1973. All this came as Di Nallo scored 187 for Lyon in 413 games for the club. It’s a goalscoring record that stands to this day for the club and one that could stand for several more years to come.