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Aug 16, 2005

Houllier ponders Owen bid with Essien cash

PARIS, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Olympique Lyon will try to land a world-class player once the sale of Michael Essien to Chelsea for a record fee goes through - and they hope it will be Michael Owen.

The French champions will certainly have plenty of cash, with Chelsea set to pay £24million for Ghana midfielder Essien, a record for a transfer involving a Ligue 1 player.

The transfer is expected to go ahead after a medical thought to be later on Tuesday.

The transfer sum would represent one third of Lyon's budget and the entire budget of some Ligue 1 clubs.

'It's true that it's a lot of money,' said former France striker Bernard Lacombe, who is Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas's adviser for sporting matters.

'We are ambitious and we will now try to make the right choices. There are a few players we're interested in. Maybe we should get a real top man.'

That could be England striker Owen, who is expected to leave Real Madrid. The England striker has excellent relations with Lyon coach Gerard Houllier, who was his manager at Liverpool.

'I get on well with Michael and I still have contact with him and his family,' said Houllier.

Aulas also expressed interest in Owen: 'If you ask me whether I would be happy to welcome Michael Owen to the club, the answer is yes, of course I would,' he said.

EUROPEAN IMPACT

The Lyon president, however, knows that there is some fierce competition, notably from several Premiership sides, and that the image of Ligue 1, one of the least attractive leagues in Europe, is a handicap.

However, not only do Lyon want to make history with an unprecedented fifth successive Ligue 1 title this season, they also want to make an impact in Europe.

In that respect, Essien's departure is bad news.

'One thing is for sure, a club who have him (Essien) will have more chances to win the Champions League than a club who do not,' said Aulas.

Lyon have already purchased Benoit Pedretti and Norway striker John Carew, who has scored three goals in as many league games.

They are interested in Japan-based Brazilan Fabinho, a defensive midfielder who could replace Essien.

But what they really need is a top striker, and Owen would be perfect.

First of all, they must make sure that Brazil midfielder Juninho, the club's most influential player beside Essien, stays at the club. Negotiations are under way and the player has said he does not know whether he will extend his contract or leave.

'We will do everything we can to keep him,' said Aulas. 'We cannot afford to lose a second highly-valued player.'

Whatever happens next, Aulas and his players realise they are losing a special player whose role was decisive in Lyon winning the last two French titles.

'Lyon existed before Michael Essien and will exist after him but it's true that we're losing a fantastic player,' said defender Anthony Reveillere.