Juninho’s back! He’s even brought a friend.
Nothing more needs to be said, does it?
Ok fine, there might be a few minor details.
Ever since Bruno Genesio
stepped down as Lyon manager, it’s been a whirlwind as the list of potential replacements grew by the day. Everyone from Laurent Blanc to Jose Mourinho were touted as the next big boss. Aulas let these tracks gain momentum in the media, and his sly non-answers whipped Lyon fans into a frenzy.
For those of us following Aulas for years, we’re familiar with his modus operandi. He’ll suggest certain targets who are often out of Lyon’s reach, and then when everyone’s attention is focused in the wrong direction, he’ll quietly work on other plans in the background.
The old man didn’t disappoint. Out of all the names he could have selected, he chose the best if also the most unexpected candidate.
The fans were ecstatic. There’s simply no word to describe how important Juninho is to Lyon. Even homegrown players such as Karim Benzema and Alexandre Lacazette don’t receive anywhere near the adulation that Juninho does. He’s the closest thing Lyon have to a prodigal son, and it’s widely acknowledged that the club’s most successful period was when he was wearing a Lyon jersey. If there’s one person who can unify Lyon’s oft-divided fanbase and inspire a group of increasingly apathetic players, it’s Juninho.
However, instead of coming as the manager, he’s coming as the sporting director – a role that has never really existed at Lyon. Not only will Aulas be ceding a great deal of authority to Juninho, but he’s also be leaving the selection of the new manager to him as well.
The role of sporting director is nebulous and varies from club to club. At Lyon, Bernard Lacombe, Florian Maurice, Gerard Houllier, and even Genesio shared many of those responsibilities.
Since Aulas took over in 1987, he’s maintained a strict leadership hierarchy, and despite the multitude of managers he’s hired since then, he’s never wavered in his stance. So why now? Why a sporting director when Lyon have gotten by just fine (relatively speaking) without one?
Perhaps Aulas realized that the notoriously under-performing Lyon needed a greater change than just a new manager. After all, no matter who was brought in, they would have to work within the currently existing confines that Genesio did, and after dozens of managers who failed to bring the club to the heights it’s capable of, the fault can’t be blamed on the manager alone.
This is a big risk by Aulas, but he didn’t get to where he is by playing it safe. He’s giving a huge amount of power to Juninho, who not only is inexperienced as a sporting director but also has no experience in football management either.
Still, one doesn’t necessarily need experience for this role, as it instead requires a more intuitive sort of knowledge regarding the club, the players, and the market. Tactics and man management are usually the manager’s responsibilities.
While we don’t know exactly what Juninho’s responsibilities are (for example, it doesn’t seem like he’ll have anything to do with OL Féminin), we can assume he’ll play a role in transfers, monitor the academy, and more importantly, select the manager.
And that’s exactly what Juninho did. He chose his Brazilian compatriot Sylvinho to hold the reins at Lyon next season. He’s only the second foreign manager in Lyon’s 70 year history.
The jury is out on whether Juninho made the right decision. Sylvinho himself has never been the head coach, as his previous roles were just as assistant (Brazil and Inter Milan). Those who’ve worked with him speak highly of him, and they praise his tactical knowledge, his commitment to fitness, and the way he handles his players. And while he doesn’t speak French, there will be translators on hand to smooth things over.
The club hopes that in returning to the club’s Brazilian roots, Lyon will regain that special sauce they used to have in the early 00’s. And while Sylvinho will be bringing along his own video analyst, the rest of Lyon’s coaching staff will remain, which will help with continuity.
But it’s hard to overlook that Lyon is now in the hands of two inexperienced leaders. It might have made sense to pair Juninho with a more experienced manager, but for once, Aulas is staying out of it.
Many Lyon supporters find themselves in a conundrum. Juninho has always inspired loyalty and implicit trust, but with so much at stake, it’s difficult not to wonder if this was the right decision. While Juninho’s love for Lyon cannot be questioned, many former players have proven to be poor decision-makers when in management positions. It might have been smarter to start him out in a smaller role.
There is also the notion that after so many years as an upstart club, the time was ripe for an experienced, big name manager. Lyon are the richest they have ever been and are now able to bankroll all but the most expensive of managers. A manager like Arsene Wenger or even Jose Mourinho, as frightening as the idea is, would give a sense of legitimacy to Lyon’s aspirations.
But Aulas has made a leap of faith, and so the fans will have to as well. The next two months will be critical as both Juninho and Sylvinho establish themselves. The players will be meeting them when they return from vacation, and in the meantime, they’ll need to contend with the transfer window, which is always a volatile time at Lyon.
Juninho has already pledged to work with Florian Maurice, who was understandably anxious about his own job security (fun fact: when Juninho was at the club, Maurice was a presenter for OLTV, only moving to the recruiting cell after Juninho left). The biggest obstacle of all will be dealing with the departure of Tanguy Ndombele, who’s been Lyon’s key midfield lynchpin. With Memphis Depay, Ferland Mendy, and Nabil Fekir also potentially leaving, Maurice and Juninho have a tall order to fill.
The goals of next season are unchanged. A top 3 finish is the bare minimum. Anything short of Champions League qualification can be considered a failure, especially given how Genesio was run out of the club despite his finish on the podium. It’s also expected that Lyon will provide more of a fight to PSG. However, milestones like a cup final, Champions League progression to the knockout rounds, and a comfortable 2nd place finish are also on the checklist. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is.
While it would be ideal to give Sylvinho time to adjust, in reality, he’s not going to have any. His tenure as manager will likely be reviewed in December when coaches usually find themselves out of a job. If Lyon are too far from the top of the table, or even worse, they find themselves near the bottom, it’s hard not to see the axe coming down.
Aulas, clever as always, has made it clear that Sylvinho was Juninho’s choice alone. If Sylvinho crashes and burns, it’s Juninho who will fall on that sword. And while fans love Juninho enough to overlook poor results, eventually even his grace period will run out.
This Tuesday, Juninho and Sylvinho will officially begin their work. How this unfolds remains to be seen, but for the first time in a long time, there’s a cloud of optimism around the club.
Welcome home, Juni.