Buyer’s remorse: the worst transfers in Olympique Lyonnais history

Remember Frederic Piquionne? It’s ok, neither do we.

While we’re waiting to find out who OL’s mystery targets are, I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane and recount some of the horrific purchases Aulas has made.

Don’t get me wrong, I have utmost confidence in Jean-mimi. He’s the guy who took a Ligue 2 club and transformed them into European contenders.

Lyon may have lost some of its glamour since PSG and Monaco changed citizenship, but no other club has been as consistent since its entry to the top flight. And since winning their first title in 2002, they have ranked in the top three in all but three seasons (4th in 2012, 5th in 2014, 4th in 2017).

What does that mean? Money, of course. Higher rankings means a bigger share of broadcasting revenue, not just from the LFP but also from UEFA.

Lyon’s coffers swelled after successive European seasons and title wins, and by 2008, Aulas was ready to spend big. Unfortunately, like lottery winners who go from an empty purse to a bank account full of millions, Lyon didn’t make the best choices.


Player Purchase Price (€)
Lisandro Lopez 24.5
Yoann Gourcuff 22.5
Sonny Anderson 19.4
Michel Bastos 18.4
Kader Keita 17.2
Aly Cissokho 16.6
Memphis Depay 16.1
Fred 16.0
Ederson 15.2
Jean II Makoun 14.3
Sergi Dardar 13.4
Bafetimbi Gomis 13.3
Eric Carriere 12.3
Michael Essien 12.0
Bertrand Traoré 10
Pape Cheikh 10
Tiago 10.1
Péguy Luyindula 8.8
Pierre-Alain Frau 8.5
Hugo Lloris 8.5
Eric Abidal 8.5

Looking at the list above, you’ll note that most of Lyon’s best performers are not there. That’s because they were cheaper (Malouda) or in some cases, free (Juninho). And this isn’t taking into account their homegrown players either (Benzema, Lacazette, Umtiti, Martial…etc).

I put together a list of whom I feel were the worst purchases OL made. They weren’t necessarily bad players, as some of them suffered from injuries while others just were not utilized correctly. But all were a huge loss of money.

Top 5 Worst Transfers

1. Yoann Gourcuff

Not only did he look like he fell out of a modeling catalog, but Gourcuff was long heralded as the next Zidane. Snapped up by Milan at a young age, he spent most of his time as a sub (who wouldn’t be when you’re competing against Kaká and Andrea Pirlo?), and after a few years, returned to France to play for Bordeaux. There, he was the key to winning the title and dethroning OL from their streak of dominance.

Lyon saw in him the new Juninho. Having been missing a playmaker since Juni retired, Aulas shelled out €23m euros, which makes him the second most expensive player in OL history. However, it was considered a worthwhile investment, and with him, Aulas hoped that Lyon could achieve what they never did before: winning the Champions League.

That totally didn’t happen. Gourcuff never quite fit into Lyon the way he did at Bordeaux. Which makes sense – Laurent Blanc built his team around him while at OL, Gourcuff was being made to fit with what was already there.

And before he could ever get into the groove, he hit a spell of injuries that kept him in the sidelines every other game. Fans never knew if Gourcuff would play until an hour before the match. Lyon had him on a 5 year contract, and with no clubs wanting to buy him, they had no choice but to see it through. That meant paying the high wages of a player who never actually played (he had one of the highest salaries at the time).

By the time he left OL, he had missed over 90 games.

2. Kader Keita

Purchased to take the place of Sidney Govou, Keita never delivered on the promise he displayed from Lille. He was one of a quad of expensive sales Lille made to Lyon (the other three being Michel Bastos, Jean II Makoun, and Mathieu Bodmer). Many wondered if the Seydoux-Seydoux relationship had anything to do with the fact that Aulas splashed out €55m on four of their players within the span of a single year.

Of the four, I would argue that Keita was the worst. Bodmer was only €7m and Makoun did the job while Bastos scored over 40 goals in his 4 years at the club. Keita on the hand never quite established himself as a starter, which is unacceptable given the amount paid for him.

While he had speed and flashes of brilliance, his finishing was a disaster and he  often lost possession. Fred, who played up front with him, was often visibly frustrated at the lack of on target passes.

Lyon cut their losses after two years and ended up playing Benzema in his place. It turned out pretty well, I’d say.

3. Ederson

Another Juninho hopeful, Lyon doggedly chased Nice’s breakout star for an entire year. Ederson was nice enough to pretend he wasn’t interested, but Nice eventually sold him for €18m.

(At this point, Lyon had become L1’s cash cow, paying the kind of prices that they themselves charged to foreign clubs.)

Ederson is on this list not because he was a bad player but because Claude Puel horribly mismanaged him. He was constantly played out of position, on a rotation really, to the point that he developed an identity crisis. This led to inconsistency in his performances, and with him never becoming the Juninho that Puel was looking for, he was benched for many games.

In his four years at OL, he played only 82 games. That’s one of the worst returns on investments ever. And unlike some of the other people on this list, I genuinely think this transfer could have gone better.

4. Sergi Darder

Here’s another example of a highly talented player that was mismanaged and then sold off because he didn’t perform up to expectations. A hot prospect at Malaga, he was brought in to augment a midfield that hadn’t quite achieved a good balance.

And while he played a decent amount in his two years at OL, he never became a starter. Bruno Genesio never knew what to do with him and ultimately made him a bench player. Not because he was injured, but just because.

Newsflash: Unless you’re Barca and Real Madrid, you don’t buy a player for €12m and then keep him on the bench. It’s a manager’s job to work with a player to find the ideal position, but in Darder’s case, it was like they tried once and then wrote him off.

As expected, this led to an inconsistency in his playing, which reinforced Genesio’s opinion that Darder wasn’t a good fit for OL. To be fair, Darder was often criticized for being too slow, but I also feel this is something that can be improved.

He eventually left for Espanyol, where he’s been playing much better. At 24 years of age, he’s fairly young, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him getting better in the future. After all, it’s what happened with Dejan Lovren – another player who couldn’t “fit” into Lyon. Wonder where he is now?

5. John Mensah

He isn’t on the list above, but Lyon still paid a cool €8m for his defensive services. While getting the occasional injury, he had still been a solid defender at Rennes, and OL needed someone who could shore up their defenses. With Sebastian Squillaci moving to Sevilla, Cris needed a reliable partner.

Lyon’s bench, which was miles deep in every other position, had basically no other defenders. Young kids might not remember, but there were more than a few games where midfielders like Jeremy Toulalan and Mathieu Bodmer had to play as CB.

John Mensah to the rescue. A Ghanian international, he performed excellently in the African Cup of Nations that summer. He was a solid bet, and Lyon were happy with the purchase.

Unfortunately, like Gourcuff, Mensah’s time at OL was plagued by injuries. Every week he was pulling something. This guy would get injured at practice. It was to the point that most fans had never even seen him play. And when he did play, he was often in a different position, usually as a left back.

He also suffered racial abuse from fans of an opposing team, which further disheartened him. By the end of his first year, he had enough and needed a change of scenery. OL loaned him to Sunderland, where he continued to be plagued by injuries.

He made a total of 13 appearances for Lyon.

Who do you think should be on this list? Leave your comment below!

One thought on “Buyer’s remorse: the worst transfers in Olympique Lyonnais history

  1. Pingback: Benfica to Aulas: put out or get out – Lyon Offside

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