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FEATURE | PSG Sporting Director Leonardo vs Lyon President Aulas – who is better at the media game?

In the seemingly ever-expanding football media landscape, a club’s off-field messaging has become nearly as important as its performances on the pitch. How each club chooses to interact with the media is integral in controlling and articulating its brand. In France, two of the most recognisable and dichotomous figureheads come in the form of: Olympique Lyonnais president Jean-Michel Aulas and Paris Saint-Germain Sporting Director, Leonardo Araujo.

Inherently PSG and Lyon’s approaches to building football clubs could not be more different. In Lyon, a club nestled in the fertile Rhône Valley, a culture of development, profitability, incremental growth and financial transparency has been championed for decades. Meanwhile, in the cultural mecca of Paris, the club has opted for a win-now approach, which leverages the glamour of the city and is buoyed unprecedented investment. Given these differences it is no shock that each club has taken a very different approach to its media relations.

The Personalities  

It is impossible to explain Aulas’ relationship with the media without exploring his inextricable links to OL. The majority owner and president bought the heavily indebted club in 1987 with the promise of European football. Being a successful entrepreneur, Aulas leaned on his business savvy to restructure Lyon and begin a rapid climb to the top of French football – culminating in 2002 with a Ligue 1 title.

The fact that Aulas turned a fledgling club into a profitable business venture is a testament to his independent spirit. A transformation of this magnitude remains anomalistic in European football and the overall success of the project lends to his public persona, as a bombastic, yet calculated businessman.

It is these deep-seated ties, in concert with his own self-belief and acumen that inform Aulas’ relationship with the French media. This detail is integral in often making him appear more earnest than might otherwise be possible.

Conversely, the life of a Sporting Director is, by its nature, more nomadic than that of an owner, or even club president. Therefore, while Leonardo is in his second term with PSG, his links with the club will always be more tenuous than that of Aulas. What is more, Leonardo has a boss, so while at this moment he might outwardly represent as a figurehead; inside the club he remains a relatively marginal stakeholder.

Nonetheless, in this sense the Brazilian performs his role well; a handsome, charismatic, polyglot, he characterises both the cosmopolitan nature of Paris as well as the manicured brand PSG endeavour to promote.

Omni-Presence and Elusiveness 

It is difficult to get through a match day without Aulas appearing at the centre of a news story. Lyon’s president makes it his business to get in front of the camera or in the various French dailies. Aulas is unafraid of wandering the mixed zone and sharing his own take on the preceding match. In fact, it’s not rare to see him present at press conferences normally reserved for players and coaching staff. And when all else fails there is Twitter, where Lyon’s owner is happy to go blow-for-blow with anyone who cares to call him, or his club, out.

Aulas’ availability is, in and of itself, a media tactic; in that one is just as likely to read about the president’s reaction to a loss, as they are to encounter a detailed match report. In some ways, by saying so much, Aulas is really saying nothing at all. And yet, the media know he is good for a quote and a story. This approach, coupled with his aggressiveness and confrontational nature, means Aulas acts as a giant shield for both his players and staff.

This method could not be any less appealing to PSG – a club that has no trouble drumming up media attention and controversy. That being said, Leonardo makes himself somewhat scarce – only taking centre stage when a true controversy emerges. PSG is a media circus on the best of days; having a Sporting Director begging for the limelight and quick to stir up an online scrap does not help tamp down any unwanted rumours.

Preparing for Combat 

Aulas is a fighter by nature – always game for an argument. The Lyon president’s constant back and forth with the media can serve as a way to galvanise his fan base and more importantly his players and backroom staff. This tactic seems to be even more useful since PSG claimed the mantle of perennial French Champions. Aulas’ raised fists are often in the direction of the Ligue 1 giant and the ‘plucky underdog spirit’ can be a welcomed image to supporters.

Meanwhile, Leonardo leans more heavily of his charisma and likability – reiterating a message of general harmony within the club. As an institution, Paris has experienced its fair share of confrontation – one of the most recent being between manager, Thomas Tuchel and previous Sporting Director, Antero Henrique. Again, Leonardo is not prone to addressing every squabble that crops up in the media, but since his appointment he has conveyed a message of calm during both this summer’s Neymar saga and last week’s Tuchel-Mbappé row, which by-and-large, has quelled more of the flames than it fuelled.

Ultimately both these clubs want the same things: to win trophies and maintain economic growth. Therefore, while Leonardo and Aulas approach the media in profoundly different ways, their fundamental goals remain the same.

K.S.

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