Pierre Sage: ‘The mistake is to think the coach’s ideas are important’

What Pierre Sage has achieved with Olympique Lyonnais has been borderline miraculous for a fan base that was just about coming to terms with the threat of relegation in November. Since taking over from Fabio Grosso, Sage has seen his club climb from the foot of the table up to seventh, while also charting a route into the Coupe de France final. 

Some might point to the fact that the club became Europe’s biggest spenders in the January transfer window but the impressiveness of his achievements in turning Lyon into a serious side has been the improvements from players that for four months had looked lost and confused on the pitch. 

Speaking to L’Équipe in a wide-ranging interview, Sage has highlighted the importance of flexibility in his management and how he believes that has helped the team develop into a more cohesive unit. 

Pierre Sage: ‘The idea is not necessarily to play as you want but to play as you can‘ 

The vision of what we want to do always passes through the filter of resources, and resources are fluctuating… So you have to have an idea, but above all, you have to have lots of variations to this idea,” Sage explains. “The Mistake is to think that it’s the coach’s ideas that are important. It’s not! What matters is what the team can do.” 

The Lyon manager continues, “The idea is not necessarily to play as you want but to play as you can. And when you can play in a certain way and you start to do it better and better, inevitably, you’re going to get closer to the way of playing that you want. This is the difference between the initial game model, which is an ideal version, and the game model that you can regulate.” 

Sage has never been shy of detailing the influence that Pep Guardiola has had on his management, and there is often a question of rigidity to the way the Spaniard shapes his teams; an unbending ethos to play how he views football. However, this is a statement that the Lyon manager rejects. 

Guardiola has always adapted his teams to the context of the competition. When he goes to Germany, he plays a positional game, but he realises transitions are dangerous in the Bundesliga. So he tells himself that he must protect the central axis to avoid counterattacks. And the tactical innovation in that was to put the full-backs inside. He regulated his idea, and he did it again at Manchester City,” Sage argues. 

This flexibility of thought has served Lyon well and managed to help the team discover a winning formula, and ahead of the game against Paris Saint-Germain this Sunday there will be a chance to see just how far the club have come under their saviour. 

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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