To an outsider, Olympique Lyonnais must resemble a stereotypical spoiled child, with its sterling bank balance and its president strutting on Twitter. Internally, however, things are a bit different.
OL has been in dire need of central defenders for over a year. But in spite of their obvious defensive shortcomings, the club procrastinated until the prospect of failure became too real to ignore. With five days left until the transfer window shuts for good, the club’s slow pace to conclude signings has left a defense that is very similar to how it started.
The only proven defender in the squad right now is Marcelo. Clumsy Mouctar Diakhaby was numerically-replaced with the hasty and clumsy signing of Jason Denayer, and the situation behind him does not inspire confidence either. Oumer Solet is too young to play a significant role, Christopher Martins-Pereira is technically not even a defender, and Jeremy Morel is… well, he’s Morel.
To be fair, OL has tried to enroll another defender. As early as May, the club set its sights pretty high, and the promises of grandeur and big name signings seemed to hold water. By August, a shortlist comprising the likes of Kostas Manolas, Abodu Diallo, Yerry Mina and Rúben Dias left fans salivating more than sweet, sweet transfer sales.
Yet as the days grew shorter, so did the shortlist. OL first looked to Barcelona-slaying Manolas. His low release clause of €36M and the player’s reported desire to play in the French league seemed favorable, but inexplicably, OL turned him down in favor of Diallo.
Like Manolas, Diallo could have been a promising signing. However, the club’s fatal mistake in his transfer was letting the Frenchman meet Bruno Genesio before signing. Diallo had already talked with Lucien Favre, and the comparison went exactly as expected.
Then drawn-out negotiations and rumors followed Mina, who was interested in OL’s project. But at the end of the talks, the Colombian instead opted for Everton. In all likelihood, he probably mixed up his FC Castagnes.
And so, pressed for time, Lyon turned to the last defender on their list – Rúben Dias. Young and promising, the Portuguese tickled the club’s fancy, and the player’s release clause was within reach. Desperation – and a shirtless moment – put the Lyonnais in agreement – he would be the one to break OL’s transfer record.
The media started reporting that the player wanted to play in Lyon, and then, just before the Stade de Reims match kicked off, L’Equipe dropped a bomb – Rúben Dias was set to join OL. And fans believed that perhaps, just maybe, the Eusébio Cup tipped the scales in OL’s favor.
Last Wednesday, Dias penned a new contract with Benfica. And just as quickly as Dias almost signed for OL, he didn’t. The two World Cup players Aulas promised ended up signing for the wrong Olympique while Lyon were left to sleep in a bed of its own making.
Truth be told, it’s difficult to pinpoint what went wrong with Dias’s transfer. Maybe he watched Lyon play and didn’t like what he saw (it’s okay, neither did we). More likely, OL got cold feet about spending €45M on a player. After asking other teams to put their money where their mouth is, Aulas got a taste of his own medicine.
We sympathize, Liverpool. We truly do.
But more than just a player slipped through the club’s grasp. Aulas lost an opportunity to make a statement that OL is back and is roaring. Instead, the club has confirmed that it may still be some time until it can rival bigger European sides.
The remaining realistic options left to Lyon are thinning out; for one reason or another, Rodrigo Caio, Dedé and Domagoj Vida do not fit the club’s sought profile. And in the meantime, those same OL players that still struggle to withstand Stade de Reims’ mighty strike force look forward to the Champions League’s draw on Thursday.
The weeks and months will roll by again, and Aulas may have to pay for his reluctance while the fans learn that having been right all along sucks more than having been wrong. And as the transfer window nears its end, OL might soon realize that the EBITDA might not make such a stoic defender after all.