Spurs braced for bitter battle in Lyon's den
Published 21/12/2012 | 05:00
Tottenham are set for an Anglo-French battle on and off the pitch after being paired with Lyon in the knockout stage of the Europa League.
In a draw that will test the strength of the Entente Cordiale between England and France, there is potential for boardroom barracking to match the intensity on the pitch when the clubs meet in February.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy was the target of a furious attack by the French club's president Jean-Michel Aulas last summer following fraught negotiations during the signing of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
The experienced Aulas said his dealings with Levy were the hardest he had undergone in 25 years and accused Levy of reneging on earlier agreements for the international goalkeeper.
Their meeting is one of the highlights of the second-tier European competition.
Liverpool face a tough encounter with Zenit St Petersburg, Chelsea meet Sparta Prague and Newcastle have a nightmare trip to Ukraine to play Metalist Kharkiv.
Spurs' tie will offer most intrigue, with the TV rights for the boardroom "pleasantries" possibly as lucrative as those for the game itself.
Aulas, a former president of the G14 group of elite clubs, did not hold back in his assessment of Levy last August.
"He talks a lot and goes back on what we've agreed in writing. Agreements have not at all been respected," he said.
"The Tottenham board's theory is to explain that the economic market is very hard and so we have to get used to renegotiating.
"The negotiation with the Tottenham directors has been the hardest I have ever had to undergo in these 25 years."
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas said the Europa League draw was worthy of comparison with the Champions League, given the number of eye-catching ties.
He said: "Lyon is a tremendous tie for us in the sense that it gives this country, along with the Liverpool game, (the chance) to see wonderful Europa League fixtures being played.
"Zenit versus Liverpool and Tottenham versus Lyon are both like Champions League fixtures.
"The fact that we play Lyon, who are used to being in the Champions League and used to winning trophies, it's an important reference for us.
"If we want to set our targets for Champions League qualification, this is the kind of team we will face."
The prospect of an immediate return to his former club for Lloris has been described as inevitable by the Lyon coach, although Villas-Boas said he may select Brad Friedel.
"It was destiny, it will be certainly very emotional for him (Lloris)," said Lyon manager Remi Garde, a former Arsenal player. "It will not be easy.
"Tottenham seem to be improving by steps and I think Hugo has played a part in that because he has brought a lot of stability."
Lyon are equal on points with Paris Saint-Germain at the top of the French League. Should Spurs come through their fixture, they will play either Inter Milan or Cluj.
Liverpool, meanwhile, face a daunting trip to St Petersburg to take on Zenit.
The supporters of their opponents incurred the wrath of the football world earlier this week by declaring all black and homosexual players should be banned from playing for the club.
Liverpool will meet either Basle or Ukranians Dnipro in the last 16 if they progress.
Chelsea will play either Ajax or Steaua Bucharest if they overcome Sparta Prague.
For Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, the Europa League is starting to look like an unwanted distraction. He is already concerned about the debilitating effects of the journey east to face the Ukrainian champions of the last six seasons.
"I don't know much about Kharkiv, I know it's a long way," said Pardew. "They won their group so it's tough for us, but that's some way ahead.
"We keep cursing our luck in terms of this or that, but actually we're probably having one of those years where you just have to accept it and play through it. That's what we'll do."
The first legs will be on February 14, with the return games a week later. (© Daily Telegraph, London)