June 11, 2007. Sonny Anderson stood in the centre-circle of the Stade de Gerland for one last time. His daughter in his arms, he looked to south stand, where he read a gigantic banner, “The great players pass, the legends remain. We will not forget you Sonny.”
Christophe Dugarry, Marcel Dessailly, Pep Guardiola, Enzo Scifo, Lilian Thuram, Rai and Thierry Henry read it, too. Some of the all-time Ligue 1 greats had all come out to play, to stand alongside 'Sonnygoal' one last time, to remember a friend, and to celebrate his achievements.
Around 27,000 spectators joined them, too, there to enjoy a testimonial to a man who had led them to the promised land. Those in the north stand held aloft the most apt banner of the evening: “Lyon dreamed it, Sonny did it… Thank you.”
Lyon fans had dreamed that dream for more than half a century, following a club whose history can be split succinctly into two periods: before Sonny and after Sonny.
President Jean-Michel Aulas, CEO of IT company CEGID, had bought the then second-division club in 1987, but there would be no immediate revolution. There was no major instant investment in the transfer market - instead, Aulas first set his sights on revolutionising the club off the field.
Over the next 20 years, the non-playing staff grew from a workforce of just four to over 150. They concentrated on youth, a decision that would bring in countless millions in revenue as they reared the likes of Ludovic Giuly, Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa, and current stars Nabil Fekir and Alexandre Lacazette.
Lyon claimed the Ligue 2 title within two years of Aulas’ arrival, but 13 years later they were still awaiting that elusive league title. They qualified for the UEFA Champions League with a third-placed finish in 1998-99, and again the following season.
Aulas conceded they needed something extra if they were to finally crack it, and so it he sanctioned a club-record €18 million to bring Sonny back to France from Barcelona – more than three times Lyon’s previous record fee paid for midfielder Vikash Dhorasoo.
Brazilian striker Sonny had been a revelation in Ligue 1 prior to his switch to Spain. His Ligue 1 story began in 1994 when he arrived from Swiss club Servette to hit 16 goals in 20 appearances for Marseille, before the club’s enforced relegation saw him move on to Monaco.
And the goals kept coming in the Principality. "I don't think there can be many better strikers in European football," said Monaco captain Franck Dumas. "He has all the tricks in the world but you will not catch him playing to the gallery."
You certainly wouldn’t, and Sonny once reprimanded a teenage Thierry Henry for doing exactly that at Monaco – a dressing-down which Henry has subsequently cited as a major turning point in his career.
Sonny was the country’s top scorer in 95-96 with 21, and fired a further 19 the following season as Monaco took the Ligue 1 title, convincing Barcelona to fork out around €17 million for his services.
“He could finish with his left and right. Hold the ball up, win it in the air and play passes. He could do the lot. And he did it at lightening pace,” another Monaco team-mate, John Collins, told the BBC.
Two Liga titles at Camp Nou were a productive return in terms of titles, but Sonny largely failed to shine in Spain. And Aulas seized the moment.
In his first season with Lyon, Anderson’s was Ligue 1’s top scorer with 23 as Lyon finished third. The following campaign he topped the charts again, with 22, as Lyon went one step closer to the promised land, finishing second behind Nantes.
And then it came. Fourteen Anderson goals in 2001-02 finally got Lyon over the line. The wait was over. The dream had become a reality. And like busses, they just kept coming. Anderson hit 12 goals the following year as the club retained the title to kick-start a remarkable Ligue 1-record seven consecutive league titles. He hit 71 goals in 110 Ligue appearances over four seasons with Lyon.
In total, Anderson struck 138 goals in 221 Ligue 1 outings, claiming three league titles. Two of those were the stuff of dreams – dreams that will never be forgotten, and for which Lyon will be eternally thankful.