Lyon face up to Ronaldo and Juventus as Juninho era struggles for lift-off
Anthony Lopes describes Cristiano Ronaldo as “extraordinary”, and the Lyon goalkeeper knows how big a job he faces keeping his Portuguese international colleague quiet when the French side face Juventus in the Champions League this week.
“I have been lucky enough to play alongside him. He is the captain and an extraordinary personality, a great man,” Lopes told AFP when asked about playing with Ronaldo.
Lopes, 29, was born near Lyon and has spent his entire club career there. But thanks to his Portuguese roots he has won seven caps and been to two major tournaments with Ronaldo, including Euro 2016 which Portugal won.
“I have gone to major tournaments with him, the Euro and the World Cup, where you have to develop links to those around you, and to do what he does every day is quite incredible,” Lopes added. “Players today take great inspiration from him.” On Wednesday, OL host Ronaldo and the Italian giants in the first leg of their last-16 tie.
Lyon are massive underdogs against a Juve side in a hurry for Champions League success given the massive investment they made in Ronaldo, who recently turned 35.
Last year it was Lionel Messi who put Lyon to the sword at this stage, scoring twice as Barcelona won 5-1 in the second leg after a goalless draw in France.
“When you play Barca or Juve, the danger comes from everywhere,” Lopes said, adding: “All eyes will be on Ronaldo, especially in the stands.” Lyon want to become regulars in the Champions League knockout stage, but they only just scraped through their group and have since lost star player Memphis Depay to a serious knee injury.
- Off-field progress -
OL are currently seventh in Ligue 1, seven points adrift of the Champions League qualifying spots for next season.
Coach Rudi Garcia has struggled to win over supporters who were unimpressed at the decision to appoint him in October after the failed experiment with Brazilian novice Sylvinho.
“We know our future and our chances of being in the Champions League again next season will go down to the wire,” Lopes said.
Lyon president since 1987, Jean-Michel Aulas prefers to point out that they remain in every competition -- they face Paris Saint-Germain in both the French Cup semi-finals and the League Cup final.
Supporters are impatient for a first trophy since 2012, too long for a club who are France’s second-richest behind PSG.
The latest Deloitte Football Money League ranking of the world’s richest clubs has Lyon 17th with revenue of 220.8 million euros (USD 240m).
They are well behind PSG’s 636 million euros, and Juventus on 460 million euros. Nevertheless, Lyon’s potential is clear.
In 2016 they opened a stunning 59,000-seat stadium which has hosted the women’s World Cup final. Their women’s team is Europe’s best, and the club recently bought Reign FC, the US team of Megan Rapinoe.
Lyon’s stock market-listed holding company, OL Groupe, is expected to soon welcome French former NBA star Tony Parker onto its board -- OL Groupe holds a sizeable stake in ASVEL, the local basketball club which is France’s most successful.
But fans fear OL’s ever-growing off-field status will not be matched by on-field results.
“We know not many of the supporters wanted Rudi Garcia, but it is down to the president, the board and me to make decisions,” sporting director Juninho told Le Progres.
The Brazilian, a legendary former player, returned last summer but his attempts at building a new team have not yet convinced.
Lyon sold stars like Nabil Fekir, Tanguy Ndombele and Ferland Mendy in the close season, while sizeable investments in new signings have yet to bear fruit.
“We have an inconsistent team, but there are no bad guys. Most of the players are 24 or 25, have not won many trophies, and lack a bit of the culture that existed at the club when I played,” said Juninho.
How they could have done with the Brazilian in his pomp against Juventus. Getting the better of Ronaldo and co. is a huge challenge for Lyon’s current crop.