As President of Ligue 1 high-flyers Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace, former West Ham United midfielder Marc Keller is well-placed to pass judgement on Thursday’s UEFA Europa League quarter-final first-leg opponents Olympique Lyonnais.
The former France international has not only led club he represented from 1991-96 to the brink of UEFA Champions League qualification, but he is also a keen watcher of football.
And Keller, who made 57 appearances in Claret and Blue after joining the Club from Bundesliga outfit SC Karlsruhe in July 1998, believes Peter Bosz's side have saved their best for European competition this season.
“Look, Lyon may still only be sitting in ninth place in Ligue 1 despite Sunday’s win over Angers but please don’t be deceived by that because they are one of the top football clubs here in France,” warns the seven-times capped France international, who was a member of West Ham United’s victorious 1999 UEFA Intertoto Cup-winning side.
“The President, Jean-Michel Aulas, is a good man who’s been in charge for 35 years now and he’s taken his club from the second-tier in French football, built a new stadium and given the fans some fantastic moments, while also bringing stability, too.
“For many years, Lyon have been used to fighting for a place in the top three and, although they aren’t doing so well as usual in the league at the moment, believe me, they’ll be heavily focused on this Europa League quarter-final because it’s now become their best route into next season’s Champions League.”
Keller, who has been at the helm of RC Strasbourg’s own remarkable, resurgent climb through the French football pyramid over the past decade or so, knows a thing or two about how to build success at a club.
The team from France's Alsace region currently sit fourth in Ligue 1, just two points outside the UEFA Champions League places and six points ahead of Thursday's visitors Lyon.
“Relegations and financial difficulties meant we were in the fifth division so we’ve had a mountain to climb," he explained.
“It certainly hasn’t been easy but we’re now back in the top-tier. It’s incredible! As President, I look at the three clubs above us - Paris Saint-Germain, Olympique Marseille and Rennes - and cannot even begin to compare budgets with any of those teams or the likes of Lyon, who have some really excellent footballers in their squad.
“At Strasbourg, we’re presently in fourth in Ligue 1 but at the start of every season we would be content just with eighth or 12th place so it’s tremendous to see our fans so happy as we take a rare opportunity to try and qualify for the Europa League ourselves this year.
“Having been at West Ham United in 1999/00, when we won the Intertoto Cup against FC Metz and qualified for the UEFA Cup, I know just what it means to the players and the supporters to play in a European competition.
“I still watch the Hammers on television every weekend and it’s really good to see them having another top, top season, too,” concludes the 53-year-old.
“I’m so pleased that the French players - Kurt Zouma, Alphonse Areola and Issa Diop - are all playing well, too, because I appreciate the journey they’ve made to get to West Ham United and the Premier League,
“Certainly, this quarter-final is going to be a really tough contest for both teams!”
*Don’t miss our full, exclusive interview with Marc Keller, who turns the pages on his West Ham United Scrapbook in Thursday’s award-winning Official Programme, which you can buy now here!