Call them 'the unbeatables'. That, in any case, is the ominous nickname applied to Lyon on the website of Wolfsburg, the French club's opponents in this evening's UEFA Women's Champions League final. It goes without saying that no team can truly claim invincibility in the realm of sport, but in Lyon's case the suggestion might not be too far-fetched. Patrice Lair's side have come to dominate the women's game like no other down the years.
The facts are certainly startling. Lyon have not suffered a defeat in the French league since 14 March 2010, when they were beaten 2-0 by Juvisy – and their last defeat inside 90 minutes in any competition came three days after that. Since then, their only setbacks have been a trio of penalty shoot-out losses, against Turbine Potsdam in the 2010 Women's Champions League final and versus French Cup opponents Paris Saint-Germain and Juvisy in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Unsurprisingly, they have also swept up a lot of trophies, and right now they are on a run of seven consecutive French league title wins and two straight Women's Champions League triumphs, having also lifted the French Cup last term. It would difficult to find a more fearsome record anywhere in football, and Lyon are determined to bulk up their CV further in tonight's match, their fourth consecutive appearance in the continental showpiece. In the build-up to the big kick-off, FIFA.com met up with coach Lair and midfielder Louis Necib to discuss one of the game's true winning machines.
"I don't think people realise what this team are actually doing at the moment," said Lair. "Unfortunately, it's almost become routine. Recently, we won on penalties in the semi-finals of the French Cup against Montpellier, and people spoke about it as if we'd lost 4-0." Indeed, much of the focus fell on a contentious spot kick, but after the match Lyon President Jean-Michel Aulas sportingly offered to replay the tie.
"I don't know if our performances are judged for what they are," added Necib. "If a men's team got the same results we do, perhaps they'd stand out more. On the other hand, we the players are satisfied with what we're doing and that's enough for us."
"We're feeding people caviar, but one day there'll be none left," explained Lair. "We're in the middle of an epic era. For three years now we've gone undefeated and been the dominant team, scoring a ton of goals. The time will come when we'll have a weakness and that'll be normal. My players aren't extra-terrestrials."
Maybe not, but Lyon are clearly no ordinary team. Few clubs can boast so many talents in their ranks, with the likes of Necib, Camille Abily and Lara Dickenmann all lighting up the European game. If that was not enough, Lyon also recruited United States stalwart Megan Rapinoe and Japan star Shinobu Ohno at the turn of the year. "Megan is a fantastic player, but she's inconsistent," said Lair. "I hope she'll be able to put in more regular performances. As for Shino, she's having trouble adapting to the French mentality. I hope that will change and she'll be able to contribute everything I'd intended, meaning depth to our attacking play, energy and efficiency."
Victory or bust
He may be critical of the duo, an Olympic champion in Rapinoe's case and a FIFA Women's World Cup™ winner in Ohno's, but that is the Lair approach. The more demanding he is, the better Lyon play. "At Lyon, all the players are treated the same," he said. "There are no real starters, as such. A slight drop in standard and a player can find themselves in the reserves, or even in the stands." Swedish international Lotta Schelin would undoubtedly attest to that. Voted the best player in the French championship this month, she nonetheless had to contest a match with the 'B' team last October.
"He's not harsh, just very rigorous," explained Necib, who also worked under Lair at Montpellier in 2006. "He's only interested in excellence. He's played an important part in our titles, and his professionalism has done a lot of good for Lyon. He insists that we always give everything and never ease off. That's obviously the danger whenever a team wins everything, but he's been able to keep us at our maximum level."
If anything, Lair has even been able to raise that level. In this season's Women's Champions League, for example, Lyon have won all eight of their games, scoring 29 goals and conceding just one. They have soared above the competition in France as well, triumphing in all 21 of their championship fixtures and rattling in 129 goals while shipping just five. "My job is definitely easier than that of a coach whose players come to train after work or after their studies," said Lair. "I'm lucky enough to have a professional squad, so it's normal that we get good results. Right now, I have to be one of the luckiest coaches in the world."
His peers would almost certainly agree with that, starting with Wolfsburg boss Ralf Kellermann. "They're the best club side in history," said the German trainer, whose daunting task it is to bring the Lyon juggernaut crashing to a halt this evening.