After nearly 36 years at the helm of the French football club, Lyon’s iconic chairman Jean-Michel Aulas is stepping down, handing over responsibility to American investor John Textur, who became a major shareholder last year.
Lyon won seven league titles during Aulas’ tenure, while the women’s team established themselves as a major force in Europe. Aulas, 74, originally planned to continue in his role for three years after Textor took over in December. But the club issued a statement on Monday saying he would be honorary chairman from now on, while Texter was named chief executive of OL Group.
Textor’s Eagle Football took a 77.49 percent stake in the club, promising an 86 million euro ($90 million) capital increase.
The American businessman made his fortune from digital media. He also owns stakes in Crystal Palace, Belgian second division club RWD Molenbeek and Brazilian side Botafogo.
Aulas took over Lyon in 1987, when the club was deeply in debt and playing in the second tier of French football. Through shrewd player signings and the development of one of Europe’s most prestigious youth academies, Aulas developed the club into a financially successful entity with a 59,000-seat stadium.
Lyon won back-to-back titles from 2001-08 and became a powerhouse in French football as players like Real Madrid great Karim Benzema emerged from its academy. Other players, such as free-scoring Brazil midfielder Juninho and Ghana’s winner Michael Essien, made their name at the club at the time.
In the European arena, Lyon reached the semi-finals of the Champions League twice. In contrast, the Lyon women’s team became the dominant force in Europe, setting a record eight Champions League titles.
“The OL Group would like to thank Mr. Jean-Michel Aulas for his commitment and unreserved dedication to the Olympic Games of Lyon for more than three decades, during which time both the men’s and women’s teams won More than 50 titles,” Lyons said.
Lyon striker Ada Hegerberg, who won the Ballon d’Or in 2018, paid tribute to Aulas on Twitter.
“Thank you Jean-Michel. Thank you so much,” she wrote.
Since their last title triumph in 2008, Lyon’s men’s side have faltered as Paris Saint-Germain established dominance under the control of the cash-rich Qataris. PSG have won eight titles since QSI took over in June 2011, while Lyon have been runners-up only twice.
After Bordeaux beat Lyon in 2009, the club’s fortunes began to decline – despite a constant influx of young talent.
The club finished eighth last season, 25 points behind PSG. Ten league defeats and 51 goals conceded – the most by any top 10 club – are dismal statistics.
The club, after another mediocre season under coach Laurent Blanc, are struggling to qualify for next season’s European competition, finishing seventh with four games remaining in the French league.
According to L’Equipe, which reported Aulas’ departure, tensions between Texte and Lyon’s president have risen recently, with the new boss determined to change the club’s sporting structure.
“The first task of the new chairman and CEO and the board of directors will be to strengthen the Lyon Olympic team on the world football stage, in line with the highest ambitions of its illustrious history,” the club said.
Aulas, who still owns 9 percent of the club through his holding company Holnest, will receive an exit package of 10 million euros ($11 million), L’Equipe reported.
(France 24th, Associated Press)