Before the Qatari-backed rise of Paris Saint-Germain to become the preeminent force in French football, Ligue 1 was usually a straight fight between more provincial rivals. In the first decade of the 21st century, however, Olympique Lyonnais reigned.
Between 2001 and 2008, the Rhône-Alpes-based club won seven consecutive titles having never previously bettered their past peak of finishing as runners up to other French champions. Their final win in this sequence was arguably their best as they clinched a domestic league and cup double, capping off a period of dominance by bringing home the Coupe de France for the first time since 1973.
Lyon failed to win the league by as large of a margin as their previous victories. The season before, they finished 17 points ahead of Marseille. In 2005/06, they built up a 15-point gap between themselves and Bordeaux. The year before that, they beat Lille to the title with a 12-point advantage.
Yet in 2008 as they ended the season four points in front of Bordeaux to make it seven out of seven under their new manager Alain Perrin, Lyon scored 74 goals – more than in any of their other title-winning campaigns. Not a bad haul to go alongside the cup their coach had won the year before with Sochaux. He would only last the one season with Les Gones – or “the kids” in English – though before departing on his own volition in June 2008.
That would be a fitting nickname for a side that sought to conquer French football through spotting and developing talent, canny management of the squad and the youth academy and investment in the scouting network and training facilities required to create a veritable conveyor belt of talent. Perrin was one of four Lyon managers to work that system to bring in a league title following on from Jacques Santini, Paul Le Guen and Gérard Houllier.
In 2007/08, they won the league and cup with a raft of players brought up either through their ranks or as captures from outside that were found and refined by their coaching staff. The likes of Karim Benzema, Juninho Pernambucano, Jérémy Toulalan, Sidney Govou, Anthony Réveillère, Hatem Ben Arfa and Kim Kallstrom were all key to their victories on two fronts that season.
Even as the league titles dried up for Lyon in the years that followed, more talent still continued to flow in and out of the club. More recently, Hugo Lloris, Miralem Pjanic, Bafétimbi Gomis, Lisandro López, Michel Bastos and Samuel Umtiti have all passed through.
Some used Lyon as a finishing school of sorts. For others, it was where their careers began. With players such as Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso catching the eyes of scouts all over Europe, there seems no sign that the team will stop producing players of note.
It was fitting that their final title in their sequence of seven relied so heavily on the brilliance of their homegrown stars of the time. Benzema scored 20 Ligue 1 goals in 2007/08; 31 in all competitions. Fellow Lyon academy graduate Govou was man of the match as the club beat PSG in the final of the Coupe de France.
Ben Arfa made many of his contributions off the bench, but he was some impact sub, firing home eight goals and helping to create so many more with his tricky dribbles against tired legs courtesy of his dazzling and unpredictable ability on the ball.
But where are they now? In the gallery above, the careers of 11 players that were key to Lyon’s 2007/08 title and cup-winning are profiled, along with a few other squad members who made vital contributions to their team’s historic seventh straight Ligue 1 win.