They were once the leading force of French football, collating league titles, seven in a row to be precise, like they were merely going out of fashion.
Before Olympique Lyonnais sank their teeth into unprecedented success, no team had managed to win back-to-back championships, let alone seven consecutive feats, for ten years preceding and their rise to power was not only buoyed through an air of invincibility from the starting eleven, but a wealth of gifted youngsters continued to emerge from the club nicknamed Les Gones, meaning ‘The Kids’.
Lyon, governed by Jean-Michel Aulas, boasted the likes of Michael Essien, Mahamadou Diarra, Florent Malouda, Eric Abidal, Juninho Pernambucano and Thiago Mendes as they didn’t just grasp their chance to dominate Ligue 1, but they throttled it.
In the midst of the evident quality on regular show at the Stade de Gerland, all eyes soon became fixated on ‘the kids’ that were gradually being embedded into the title jubilations, such as Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa and Loïc Rémy.
On the back of following up his 2007 Ligue 1 winners’ medal with another in 2008, Rémy decided in the summer that he wanted to leave Lyon to pursue more first-team opportunities with OGC Nice and although it was a bold choice at just 21, it proved to be the right one.
Whilst ticker-tape showered over Lyon’s players as they raised a seventh-straight title aloft in 2008, nobody would have foreseen the demise of that championship winning cycle coming, as five years have since passed and no more league successes have been claimed. Rémy spent two years at Nice and scored 26 goals in 68 games for the club, but a bigger challenge soon arrived with then-champions of France, Marseille in 2010, as Premier League clubs continued to track his rapid development.
Despite L’OM failing to successfully defend their crown in Rémy’s debut season, as Rudi Garcia’s Lille shocked everybody on the road to winning the league and cup double in 2011, the striker still enjoyed a fruitful first season with the most successful club in French football to date, scoring 15 goals and creating three assists in Ligue 1.
Rémy demonstrated his poacher-like instincts in the box, with 50% (8) of his goals coming from inside the penalty box, whilst 44% (7) came from the six-yard zone. He is a slick finisher when in one-on-one situations, but Rémy scored just as many goals (7 – 44%) with his head as he did with his trusted and much-preferred right foot.
38% (6) of his goals came from open play and his all-round posture and style on the pitch has been likened on numerous occasions to one of the greatest strikers of all-time in Thierry Henry. Rémy’s ability to burst away from defenders with raw pace is extremely similar to the former Arsenal man, along with his intelligence and touch, and he admitted during his time with Marseille that Henry, the all-time top goalscorer for the France national team, was the one player he has always aspired to emulate.
The following season, despite winning the Coupe de la Ligue and also reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, was sub-standard for Marseille in Ligue 1, although Rémy scored 12 goals and made five assists for his team-mates.
The definition of a derisory season for a big club gunning for the title every year can be summed up by Les Phocéens finishing 34 points behind eventual champions Montpellier in tenth-place. Rémy reached double figures in 29 appearances for the club, as the majority of his goals (50% – 6) again came from inside the penalty box and 33% (4) were scored from the six-yard area.
Rémy buried home 50% (6) of his goals with his head and 25% (3) of his 12 strikes came from open play, but Marseille knew that big players needed to be sold that summer after missing out on the Champions League, as the likes of Stéphane Mbia (QPR) and César Azpilicueta (Chelsea) moved on, with Rémy and Andre Ayew tipped to follow suit.
However, Rémy survived the pre-season exodus from the Vélodrome under new manager, Élie Baup, but missed the first few months of the Ligue 1 campaign through injury and it almost felt as if he had been sold.
When the January transfer window opened last season, two clubs in England were itching to spend. The paper-thin squad that had served Newcastle United so well the season before was depleted with mass injuries due to their Europa League commitments, and they desperately needed to find a goalscorer to take the weight of responsibility off the struggling Papiss Cisse, as the club’s league form was suffering.
QPR were at the foot of the Premier League table as a host of ambitious signings in the summer had failed to gel under Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp arrived midway through the season to try and change their fortunes, but he too needed a goalscorer to help boost their chances of survival.
Rémy, fresh after recovering from injury troubles, soon became a coveted man and although replacing Demba Ba at Newcastle seemed the most logical choice, he instead sealed an £8m switch to QPR, leaving just about everybody stunned.
The Magpies were deflated at the loss of Demba Ba to Chelsea and Rémy was seen as the direct replacement, as the French contingency at St. James’ Park continued to grow and he was expected to become the newest aficionado. But Rémy’s decision to join a side in the bottom three, whilst there was other offers on the table for him, has been seen before, as Ba made a similar move in 2011 by joining a West Ham side swimming against the tide in the Premier League from Hoffenheim.
Ba hit the ground running with the Hammers, scoring 7 goals in 12 appearances with a clear-cut chance conversion rate of 67%, although it wasn’t enough to ensure the club’s top-flight status and they were relegated to the Championship. Rémy’s impact at the tail end of last season was almost a carbon copy, scoring 6 goals in 13 appearances, but his 71% clear-cut chance conversion rate couldn’t keep QPR away from the drop zone either.
Toon boss Alan Pardew swooped in quick to land Ba in the summer of 2011, and in his debut season, he scored 16 goals to help Newcastle finish an unanticipated fifth in the Premier League. 87.5% (14) of Ba’s goals all came from inside the box, whilst he was involved in a goal for the team every 151.6 minutes, thus losing him in January just gone was a blow, but not only is Rémy’s path to England very similar, but so is the timing of his Newcastle move and he has the potential to fill the void left by Ba, who also scored 13 goals for the club last season.
Rémy, like what Ba experienced at West Ham, scored goals without an abundance of quality around him and will only find the net more frequently by playing alongside better players at Newcastle. 66.6% (4) of his goals for QPR came from inside the box, but arguably Rémy’s best strike came from outside the box in the 1-1 draw against Wigan at Loftus Road, where he guided the ball first-time into the top corner.
Too many people radically judged Newcastle for their poor showing last season without considering the fact that they had 41 significant injuries last season, with Wigan being the second highest with 22. The lack of depth, the loss of irreplaceable players for large chunks of the calendar and the little time the January signings had to settle meant it was no surprise the club was embroiled in a relegation scrap, but things should turn out much better this season.
With the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Tim Krul all back to full fitness, added to the fact that Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Massadio Haidara, Mathieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko and Yoann Gouffran have all had time to suitably get to know the full squad, the upcoming season promises to be strong for Newcastle, especially if Rémy can find the net as quickly as Ba did during his time on Tyneside.
Squad depth has now been established and Newcastle have the potential to slip into three or four different formations over the course of the season. Three line-ups that could work for Pardew’s side next season are: 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2.
Potential Line-ups For This Season
Ba became a firm fan favourite when playing as the lone striker for Newcastle and Rémy can unquestionably perform to a high standard in the role, too. Although he’s only arrived on a loan, Rémy could prove to be a shrewd acquisition and his touch of class, which he so often expresses through his celebrations, can get the fans singing once more. Papiss Cisse played 16 more times than Ba did at Newcastle last season, but scored five less goals as the club only scored a meagre 18 goals after his departure. Ba’s loss needed to be restored through a new signing this summer and Rémy’s entrance on the scene could be the answer, who still has a point to prove in the Premier League.