One of the more curious stories of this summer concerns Fabrice Fiorèse, who once upon time was the pantomime villain of French football but recently emerged as the victim of a wild escapade allegedly masterminded by one of his former team-mates at Lyon.
Fiorèse began his career at Lyon in 1996 but it was at Paris Saint-Germain that he really forged a reputation as an artful if obstreperous midfielder – and a serial diver. So egregious was his perceived simulation that he was systematically booed at every away ground he visited, yet his skill meant he at least remained dear to PSG fans – until, in 2004, he announced he was joining arch-rivals Marseille, "the club of my heart".
His declared love was not requited by OM fans, who continued to hold Fiorèse in contempt and after one barren season he was loaned out to a club in Qatar. His career petered out, save for one pointed flourish on the opening day of the 2006-07 season, when he further antagonised PSG fans by scoring two goals in a shock win for Lorient at the Parc des Princes.
In 2009 he retired to pursue other interests, such as running an ice-cream store in Saint-Tropez. This summer he inadvertently found himself in the news pages again after being attacked and abducted by three masked men as he arrived home in Salins-les-Thermes. The 37-year-old was beaten up and had a knife held to his throat before being bundled into a car and driven towards a destination unknown for purposes unpleasant.
Happily, Fiorèse managed to kick out the back window of the car and escape, whereupon his aggressors crashed and scarpered, only to be tracked down by police thanks to a carelessly discarded biscuit wrapper.
It was later claimed that the trio mounted the attack after being tipped off that Fiorèse would be returning home with a large quantity of cash following a business transaction in Geneva – information that allegedly came from the former Lyon left-back and friend of Fiorèse, Ghislain Anselmini, who denies any involvement but is awaiting trial as an accused co-conspirator in the foiled raid.
So there. Now that we're up to date on that grim caper, another, entirely unconnected fall from grace in Lyon may not seem so dramatic. We are talking, of course, of Olympique Lyonnais, the club that until recently dominated French football and regularly troubled Europe's giants but now find themselves struggling to retain dignity amid inevitable downsizing.
On Wednesday, Lyon host Real Madrid in a glamorous friendly: the encounter will revive memories of the three times in the last decade that Real lost Champions League clashes at the Stade de Gerland but the reality is that Lyon's current constraints mean this match may be more comparable to Real's recent friendly with Bournemouth (even if Lyon fans are being asked to fork out €10 as opposed to £60).
Lyon are no longer in the same ball park as a club that can spend €38m on Asier Illarramendi. Their summer transfer activity has been more about trying get rid of players rather than recruit. Lyon finished third in Ligue 1 last season and know that that is the best they can hope for again this term, with PSG and Monaco operating in the same league but a different world.
The Bafétimbi Gomis saga is indicative of the club's predicament. The striker has been good for Lyon, hitting double figures in each of the past seven seasons, but the chairman Jean-Michel Aulas now wants him to leave because his salary of around £3m is a liability that Lyon can no longer afford, especially if they are to keep hold of the Argentina forward Lisandro López, as they are eager to do.
Not only are Lyon facing the same drop in television income and rise in taxes as all Ligue 1 clubs (except, of course, the financially enhanced Monaco), but construction of their new 58,000-capacity home is scheduled to begin later this summer after several delays. Given the need to belt-tighten, Aulas has been trying since last year to shift senior players who were given bumper contracts when the going was good and he succeeded with Kim Kallstrom, Anthony Réveillère and Aly Cissokho, as well as reluctantly accepting Tottenham's bid for Hugo Lloris, but striker Jimmy Briand rejected a move to Besiktas in January and now Gomis has become the focal point of Aulas's anxiety, which is becoming embarrassingly public.
Gomis's insistence on serving the remaining year of his contract unless something better comes along (apparently that does not include a move to Hull City) has led the chairman to regularly use Twitter to denounce him. The closer the transfer window draws, the louder the frustrated OL overlord calls for Gomis to go, especially with Schalke deciding against keeping another of the club's high-earners, Michel Bastos, after a year-long loan in the Bundesliga. Not even Aulas is expecting anyone to relieve him of the club's highest-paid player of all, the lingering flop that is Yoann Gourcuff.
Selling the centre-back Dejan Lovren to Southampton for a reported £6.8m seems a canny bit of business given the Croatian's disappointing displays last season but clearly it is not enough and the campaign to drive away Gomis seems to have led Aulas to try to turn supporters against the popular player. He has claimed Gomis's selfishness has forced the club to forego one of its top summer targets, the Sochaux defender Sébastien Corchia, and sell one of its hottest prospects, the exciting 17-year-old forward Anthony Martial, who was snapped up by Monaco. Instead of Corchia, Lyon made the underwhelming signing of Miguel Lopes on loan from Porto. Their only other recruit so far has been the 31-year-old midfielder Gaël Danic from Valenciennes.
The upshot is that the Lyon manager Rémi Garde will go into next season relying more heavily than ever on the fruit of the club's academy. Whether that is quite ripe enough to bear such a burden remains to be seen, though it is clear that there is a lot of talent there. Alongside the homegrown captain Maxime Gonalons, 22-year-old Clément Grenier emerged as a wonderful midfield orchestrator last season, earning comparison with the great Juninho Pernambucano. The enterprising defender Samuel Umtiti also enjoyed an impressive campaign – his Europa League goal at Spurs being a spectacular highlight – and crowned that by playing a key role in the France team who won the Under-20 World Cup earlier this month.
The 22-year-old forward Alexandre Lacazette is another who looks full of promise and was rewarded for an impressive breakout season by earning his first senior international caps during France's summer tour of South America.
Those youngsters face a fateful clash even before the domestic season kicks off on 10 August: next week they contest the first leg of their Champions League preliminary round tie against Grasshoppers. If Lyon do not make it to the group stages, then Aulas, according to France Football, will have to sell more players in January, even if Gomis is gone. Forecasters are preparing to warn of a Force 12 Twitter storm.