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Rudi Garcia launches attack on Lyon Sporting Director Juninho: “Our relationship rapidly deteriorated.”

Speaking in an interview with L’Équipe, departing Lyon boss Rudi Garcia gave an astonishing account of the reasons for his failure to qualify for the Champions’ League and why he is not being offered a new contract, principally targeting Sporting Director Juninho.

Do you view the end of this season as a personal failure?

I of course assume my share of the responsibility. I am partially responsible that we are not in the Champions’ League, but the season, which began on 8th June, remains excellent with the Coupe de la Ligue final and the Champions’ League semi-final, even if I would have like to have had 79 points and be 3rd. That would have been exceptional.

You were not in Europe and PSG lost 8 matches: does that add to the sense of regret?

I think that we could have done better, even better than 3rd. But we finished 4th, it reflects our season even though we were 45 minutes away from being in the Champions’ League. What is sure, is that I liked the club, its president and the competence of Vincent Ponsot (Director of Football) with one of the most beautiful stadiums in Europe. When you have experienced that fervour against Juventus (Round of 16, 1st Leg, 1-0, February 2020), you say to yourself if the supporters had been there… But it was the same for everyone else.

You were not very well welcomed…

I was badly welcomed by certain people but I thought that after the cups and being top of the table at the halfway point, things would change. There are some fiery minorities but in the city the messages I received were truly nice. I also have the satisfaction of having the 2nd team in France in terms of most playing time for young players. That was one of the objectives, to give chances to and favour those who have a market value but also to play the Brazilian recruits and after a while, there is the squaring of the circle…

But this is the sixth consecutive time that you are missing out on the Champions’ League…

To say that is either using subjectivity or maliciousness. If we say that I did not participate in the qualification of Roma in the Champions’ League with 19 games played and therefore that my points were not useful during my third year (2015-2016)… I was a firefighter on duty when I took OM from 12th (autumn 2016) to finish 5th. I arrive in Lyon, which is flirting with relegation – and with only 28 games (the season stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic) – I have to qualify for the Champions’ League… that is bad faith.

What impacted you about your time here?

The tragedy of my time here, is the death of Gérard Houllier (December 2020), from a human and professional standpoint. It was a very difficult moment from my personal perspective. And he was critical in the balance of the club. He knew how to grease up the wheels. It was he who could explain the role of Sporting Director to Juninho who lacked the experience. It is essential in a club that all the people are behind each other as we saw in Lille. Here there was too much dissonance in my relationship with Juni.

What exactly happened with Juninho?

Things went well initially. Things started to go wrong without me noticing. After two or three victories in November, the Sporting Director no longer came to congratulate me. I found that when the Brazilian recruits weren’t playing, he wasn’t happy. He would have preferred to win with his players. He invests himself a lot, and that is a quality, but I certainly think that he must have promised them that they would start. We spoke about it, he told me that if it had to be done again, he would not push on these things. But it slowed down the emergence of certain young players like Caqueret in particular. Juni’s opinion was that Jean Lucas was better. The problem must have come from there initially. And things quickly deteriorated. At the winter break, I went to see Vincent Ponsot, and I said to him: “What is going on? What is Juni trying to do, take my position? It is not possible to continue like this. I will leave the keys to him if he wants them.”

If I had to resign, I would have done it although I think that the club suited me totally. I asked the question in my entourage and Vincent said no. But already, it was difficult. We were leading the title race in December… But he has already got angry with everyone, with Bruno Cheyrou (Head of Recruitment), who he maybe saw as competition. With Vincent Ponsot in September and it was even me who calmed things down with Juni to put the pieces back together. I said to him that Bruno was at his disposition etc. And even making asks on the youth academy side…

How did these difficulties come about?

First, when you are no longer congratulated for the victories, you understand… And when I went to see him in the second half of the season, we would only speak about selection, tactics but not the project of the club, recruitment, or the strategy around young players. Everything that pertains to a Sporting Director. I think that he will become a very good Sporting Director but you need experience. He is still too much in the player mode, impulsive in his decision-making. He did not like the attitude of certain players but did not realise that he did the same thing with the South American players.

What do you mean?

Around the 16th gameweek, Juni allowed for Jean Lucas to return to Brazil 2 matches before the end of the year. He said: “He is not playing enough, Caqueret is playing in his place etc.” But I was missing players in midfield and I did not want that. It was Jean-Michel Aulas who got him back for me. But Juni then sent him to Brazil for the last game of the year without saying to me… I was faced with things like that. He does things behind my back, speaks to players behind my back, allows certain players to criticise the coach like Jean Lucas. He lacks objectivity and equal treatment.

Look at the Houssem Aouar situation (internally sanctioned for refusing to train after a match at Angers): he was sanctioned on playing time when I suggested a strong financial, but not sporting, punishment. And that has already happened with other players in a season but they were not sanctioned because they were close with the Sporting Director… For a coach, that is difficult. Before the match vs Monaco (3-2, May 2021), he wanted to exclude Aouar, Cherki and Depay from the squad. Thankfully the president was firm and allowed for those 3 players to be at my disposition. Otherwise we would not have scored the 1st or 3rd goals as Depay and Cherki would not have been there… 

It was not an open war like Anigo vs Deschamps at Marseille?

No, not at all, it was colder than that. And as well, we collaborated as well as we could because the president was present. But there are things that players feel, they are not duped.

Did some of them speak with you?

Indirectly. I did everything to accompany Rayan (Cherki) because of the 4th division season had continued (cancelled because of COVID-19), there were some individuals who wanted him to train with them instead (the reserves)… Maxence would not have played much either. Let’s not forget that I am expected to use an academy of the highest level. Rayan played 30 matches this season, Maxence exploded into life. Melvin (Bard), Sinaly (Diomandé) played and it would have been to their detriment (if the 4th division season continued). Now, now, I was of course happy with the arrival of Bruno Guimaraes and (Lucas) Paqueta, and that is Juni, there is nothing to add to that. They were good choices. Paqueta was indispensable and exploded. But when Bruno played a little less, there was a problem… I dealt with all that. It does not create harmony internally, I supported Rayan a lot, I spoke a lot with Houssem. We needed to keep everyone committed contrary to the too fixed views of Juni.

And what of your relationship with Jean-Michel Aulas?

He always knew everything. I spoke with him nearly every evening on the phone. I informed him of everything. He is intelligent, he has bottle. And I would have so loved to leave him in the Champions’ League. I cannot change anything but on a human and professional side, I got to know an incredible man.

Might he have chosen you over Juni?

No, never. Juni is a club idol, he was a fantastic player and I hope he will be a great Sporting Director. I was not going to be the man that dislodged Juni. I repeat, I would have like a Houllier to help him. It is like that… We started on a good footing before the Jean Lucas, Bruno Guimaraes situations, but these were my sporting decisions. And I am not saying that I got everything right.

What are your regrets?

After each match we have them if what you did didn’t work. Sometimes, it hinges on very little, like vs Lille. And even before Nice (2-3 loss last Sunday), to see that Christophe Revel (goalkeeping coach), who had done an excellent job, was going to leave… When you are playing for a Champions’ League spot and you see that in the afternoon of a match that it is written that it was the goalkeeper (Lopes) who asked for that… Does it not play on the mind of Antho (Anthony Lopes) in the match? I don’t know. But it is a management error.

An adventure ends. How do you see your future?

We will see. There aren’t many clubs that interest me. We were waiting for the end of the league seasons, there are contacts. It will be a club in Champions’ League or one that is aiming for it. But it’s 50/50: I could also not coach. I’m pretty picky on the project. But I also wish the best to the OL institution, its president deserves it.

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