By Robin Bairner
When Arsene Wenger took charge of Arsenal in September 1996 he had a big job on his hands. Not only were the Gunners struggling to relive the success they enjoyed under George Graham at the turn of the decade, they were a club held back (in their new manager’s opinion) by an out-dated attitude towards football.
The Frenchman quickly realised that the north London side needed an overhaul, not only on the field but off it, too. His revolution began by recommending the signing of Remi Garde before he took direct running of the club a matter of days later.
At that point a 30-year-old veteran, Garde’s addition was made partly because Wenger respected the defender’s professionalism during lengthy stints with Olympique Lyonnais and Strasbourg. Although Patrick Vieira, who was recruited on the very same day, would have the more telling influence on the field, it was Garde’s demeanour that ultimately led to the likes of Tony Adams, who has admitted his role in a drinking culture at the club, adopting a more professional stance towards his career.
Now in coaching, Garde is having a similarly profound influence with Lyon.
Having started out with les Gones’ academy, the 46-year-old has been in charge of the top team for little over a year and has made an impressive start to his career in the technical area.
Lyon, it must be remembered, are no longer the all-conquering giants of the French game they once were. Burdened with a project to build a grand new stadium – similar to Arsenal when they moved from Highbury to the Emirates – president Jean-Michel Aulas has been forced to cut back investment on his side to limit financial losses.
Over the last year, many players have left Stade Gerland and few have been introduced. Jeremy Toulalan and Miralem Pjanic departed in the summer of 2011 as Lyon recorded over a €20 million transfer surplus, while Hugo Lloris, Aly Cissokho and Kim Kallstrom were all established first-team stars to leave in the last window.
Nevertheless, after a commendable fourth-place finish in Garde’s debut campaign, Lyon find themselves looking down on Ligue 1. Even big-spending Paris Saint-Germain trail in the wake of the Rhone outfit, whose success so far this term defies their recent history.
"Wenger could look to his former protege to take forward the image of Arsenal"
Aided by more established stars such as Lisandro Lopez and Steed Malbranque, whose addition to OL has in itself been an unexpected master stroke, the coach has brought the best out of Lyon’s prospects. Holding midfielder Maxime Gonalons is now a France international, while Samuel Umtiti, Clement Grenier and Alexandre Lacazette appear well en route to joining him in the coming years.
It is an ethic that must impress former sensei Wenger.
Lyon are not winning matches by virtue of gritty defence, either. A quick glance at the goals-for column shows that only Valenciennes, led by another Wengerite in the form of Daniel Sanchez, have found the net more regularly than Garde’s men.
OL are playing neat, tidy and effective football.
If Wenger is to move upstairs at the Emirates Stadium once he decides he has had enough of the cut-and-thrust of touchline management, there is every chance he could look to his former protege to take forward his image of Arsenal. Garde certainly has the attitude, ambition and distinctive Gunners spirit.
Having already helped to usher in one new era with the north Londoners on the pitch, there is little to suggest the quiet revolutionary could not do so again from the dugout.
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