- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

PARIS (AP) - No one embodies Lyon’s ambitious rebuilding project more than homegrown striker Alexandre Lacazette.

The 23-year-old France international has taken the French league by storm, scoring 17 goals in a stunning first half to the season that saw the seven-time champions climb to second place in the standings.

Lacazette’s technical skills have not gone unnoticed, with the former Under-19 European champion’s prowess prompting interest from big European clubs such as Manchester City and Arsenal.

Although a premature departure overseas looks possible, Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas - the man who oversaw the club’s rise to the summit of French football in the 2000’s - has told the fans he won’t sell his rising star.

“We have invested more than 400 million euros ($474 million) in a new stadium,” Aulas said. “Selling our best players, who could help us play the Champions League in this stadium, would be the negation of our strategy,” said Aulas, whose starting XI includes eight homegrown players.

Lacazette, who has been nurtured Lyon since he was 10, has blossomed this season alongside a bunch of locally groomed talents such as Nabil Fekir, Anthony Lopes or Maxime Gonalons.

“The system was put in place a while ago, but the economic context may mean some people have to leave,” Lacazette said. “If we’re no longer all together, we certainly won’t have the same collective strength. As for me, if the club can continue to allow me to improve, why shouldn’t I stay?”

Aulas’s wise financial management is paying off, with his team boasting the league’s best attacking record and sitting one point above Paris Saint-Germain ahead of Sunday’s reception of Toulouse.

Only Marseille, which tops the standings two points clear of Hubert Fournier’s side, has fared better. Following its shock elimination in the French Cup by fourth-tier Grenoble, Marseille visits Montpellier on Friday and PSG travels to struggling Bastia on Saturday.

Lyon’s new stadium is expected to be ready in 2016, and Gonalons is hopeful the new crop of players will have matured by this time.

“The young lads still have a lot to learn, the world of professional football isn’t easy,” the midfielder said. “But I’ve always said that if the club is capable of holding on to all the young players, I think that in two or three years we’ll have a really formidable team, because we have quality players and good people.”

Gonalons, who joined the club when he was 11, is praising the club academy’s staff for their work in developing a winning culture that compensates for the lack of money.

“The coaches are all former Lyon players,” he said. “Winning is very important here. You only need to see the president to know that, and it’s this mentality that has enabled Lyon to reach such a high level. He wants to win time and time again. When you see his attitude, you can’t help but give your all every single day.”

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