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Helping Lyon’s football foreign legion to lay down roots

Lyon (AFP) – On paper Isabelle Dias is Lyon’s official translator but over her 18-year tenure at the Ligue 1 outfit her role has spread way beyond her multi-lingual skills — she helps recruits from all over the world to settle in.

French administration can be bewildering even for highly-paid sportsmen, but Dias’ role consists of far more than helping them fill in paperwork — she even organises activities for players’ children and family outings.

“I help them with all the documents, banking, taxes, finding housing, finding schools, places in maternity wards,” says Dias.

She speaks Portuguese, Spanish, German and English and when players arrive at Lyon in central France she herself gives them French classes.

As a teenager she was a Lyon fan and went to games with her father even when they were in the second division. So taking a job with the club seemed a natural step.

Over the years Dias’ reputation for helping players settle in has given Lyon that little extra when trying to recruit players in both the men’s and women’s teams. 

– Houllier’s help –

“I always believed in myself but it was somehow difficult for Lyon to create a job like this in a man’s world and it took time. Gerard Houllier was the one who finally made it happen,” Dias told AFP at her office at Lyon’s training centre.

The Lyon coach from 2005 to 2007 had previously been at Liverpool, from 1998 to 2004 and, she explains, Houllier had seen a “Mr Fixit” perform a similar role at the storied English club.

“He realised we needed someone close to the players somewhere between management and their private lives,” she says.

“I can help the coaching staff and the medical staff at the same time as paying every respect to the private lives of the players — you know, explaining why a player may be tired or under par and so on.”

– Saving Edmilson –

Her life at the club took on a new twist when the Brazilian defender Edmilson confided to her he wanted to leave the club.

Edmilson was playing well but was still living in a hotel. After a trip away to play for the Brazil national team the player was depressed by the thought of returning to Lyon.

Dias alerted the management, who accepted her proposal to intervene: Edmilson stayed and eventually spent four years at the club, winning the French league title three times.

A few months later another Brazilian defender Claudio Cacapa arrived and was in similar difficulties.

“It’s never easy arriving in a strange country,” explains Cacapa, who is now Lyon’s assistant coach.

“Right from the off she was there to help me with everything,” he told AFP.

“The start is the key — if you get off on the wrong foot you might want to leave. That didn’t happen with me because she was there to help me and those like me.”

After six seasons the central defender moved on to Newcastle United in the Premier League.

“There were many French players there and I spoke French, but there was nobody there to help the foreigners.”

Looking back along the long list of players she has helped at the club, Dias admits a fondness for another succesful Latin American recruit, Lisandro Lopez — but with Cacapa she developed “the strongest bond I have had with a player”.

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