Benzema, Lacazette, Martial, Tolisso, Ben Arfa, Umtiti, Fekir, Aouar, Lopes etc… Okay! We get it! The Olympique Lyonnais academy conveyor belt’s ability of producing quality footballers, gift wrapped and ready for a high level international career is well documented, and to quote Moussa Dembélé #IfYouDontKnowNowYouKnow! Around the academy is an incredibly successful recruitment cell led by OL’s secret weapon and chief recruiter Florian Maurice, whose ability to still find hidden gems at low prices in this modern age of football is both astounding and vital to the OL DNA and its ongoing success.
Despite only Anthony Lopes and Nabil Fekir left at the club (Jordan Ferri is currently out on loan to Ligue 1 club Nîmes Olympique), supporters and onlookers have become accustomed to the revolving door of exciting young talent passing from the academy through to the first team. Youngsters at the club are drawing more and more attention from supporters and the footballing world alike as the next big talents.
The strong generation of Ferri, Lacazette, N’jie, Grenier, Fekir, Umtiti, Tolisso, Benzia, Plea and Lopes, most of whom came into prominence during Rémi Garde’s tenure as coach between 2011-14 came to fruition during the 14-15 season under new coach Hubert Fournier. Fournier himself greatly benefited from the trust that Garde was somewhat forced to place on the academy players coming through at the time. Since these players came through, there had been a frustrating gap in quality between the reservists and the first team causing OL to rely more on canny and smart recruitment. Now it’s far different, the current crop of u19 players (not to mention a handful of 15/16 year olds), are already starting to knock on Genesio’s front door for a first team place.
The youth of Olympique Lyonnais are well represented in their junior international selections, which justifies the hype and expectations that the supporters and the club place on them. Unfortunately this hype has had a negative effect with a number of highly regarded youngsters failing to live up to the increasing attention given to them. Attitude problems have plagued the generations immediately following the Rémi Garde era; we think most famously of Yassin Benzia and Fares Bahlouli among a few others and most recently… cough… Willem… actually less said the better.
The academy had been far more discrete for a couple seasons until Houssem Aouar (the academy’s golden boy) elegantly broke into the first team with little integration required. With plenty of other hopefuls behind him, the academy is starting to reproduce a growing number of high quality cracks ready to break into the first team rotation. Most notably the 19-year-old French hopeful striker Amine Gouiri, who was destined for game time this season before a tragic ACL injury put a jerking halt to his season, has only just returned to training.
Aside from Gouiri, professional 19-year-old midfielder Maxence Caqueret, 18-year-old attacker Lenny Pintor, 18-year-old striker Reo Griffiths and 18-year-old central defender Oumar Solet have all been regulars for the reserves, awaiting the opportunity to come and play with the big boys. These opportunities however have been hard to come by this season as the revolving door between the first team and the reserves has been seized shut and closed for maintenance. Their only potential chances so far have been through an unlocked side fire exit leading to the bench of a cup match here and there.
Olympique Lyonnais have given Bruno Genesio the challenge of achieving a top 3 finish, the knockout stages of the Champions League and a cup trophy – if not that, at least a final. This requires the team to compete in a match every 3 days with a few weeks of exception, meaning a huge toll on player fitness and stamina, both physical and mental. Fortunately for Genesio, the club is blessed with a proven academy as well as a deep squad with Ligue 1 quality players. Players like Terrier, Pape Cheikh, Marçal, Tete, Tousart and Cornet are all regular faces on the bench and all capable of starting matches with little drop in quality. It’s a Ligue 1 manager’s dream land to have such depth.
Considering the pedigree of youth and, by Ligue 1 standards, a strong bench, it should be a breeze to manage the players around 3 matches per week and in the process give us fans a new young nugget to ogle over, right? Unfortunately it seems it’s just not Bruno’s thing. The table below, courtesy of transfermarkt.com, gives us a detailed view of each player’s contribution so far this season in terms of matches played and total minutes played. It’s obvious that there is an over reliance on a core 11 with the exception of forced rotation due to player unavailability. At the time of writing, already we see 8 players that have played over 2,200 minutes in a minimum of 34 matches, with 7 out of the 8 totalling 2,500 minutes.
|8||Houssem AouarCentral Midfield||20||37||35||6||5||2||–||–||3||8||1,66||2.829′|
|28||Tanguy NdombéléCentral Midfield||22||37||35||2||5||2||–||–||4||9||1,71||2.682′|
|10||Bertrand TraoréRight Winger||23||37||35||9||4||4||–||–||9||17||1,66||2.258′|
|29||Lucas TousartDefensive Midfield||21||33||29||–||–||1||2||–||7||5||1,86||1.985′|
|18||Nabil FekirAttacking Midfield||25||27||27||11||5||7||–||–||3||12||1,63||1.916′|
|7||Martin TerrierLeft Winger||21||34||28||5||–||3||–||–||15||7||1,89||1.263′|
|27||Maxwel CornetRight Winger||22||26||23||5||–||–||–||–||15||8||1,65||893′|
|24||Pape CheikhCentral Midfield||21||36||21||–||–||3||–||–||13||7||1,86||748′|
|–||Jordan FerriCentral Midfield||26||14||5||–||–||–||–||–||4||1||2,20||122′|
|25||Maxence CaqueretCentral Midfield||19||3||1||–||–||–||–||–||–||1||3,00||72′|
|–||Yassin FekirLeft Winger||21||3||2||–||–||–||–||–||2||–||3,00||10′|
Would someone please think of “The Kids?”
Looking at these stats there are two key players I want to focus on – Houssem Aouar (35 apps, 2,829 mins) and Tanguy Ndombele (35 apps, 2682 mins). The stars of Lyon’s midfield and two of France’s biggest hopes to come have been struggling of late this season with form and regularity, a contrast with the players we saw last season. Genesio has utilised them solely in a two-man midfield with massive expectations placed on them to both control the midfield and supply the forwards in possession. In defence be ready to track back and provide cover for the backline off the ball – a monumental task considering Aouar is not particularly suited to the role, which is accentuated by the lack of tactics drilled into the team. Out of form Lucas Tousart (29 apps, 1,985 mins), who admittedly possesses a different profile to the aforementioned has been Genesio’s first choice to relieve either of the two. However, he has not been used as effectively as he could be tactically.
The issue is that Tousart being a classic defensive midfielder does not stylistically replace the other two, nor suit Genesio’s double pivot midfield (which is a topic for further discussion), as effectively in the possession phases of a match. Not to fear! There are two players on the roster who do replicate the duo of Aouar and Ndombele, Maxence Caqueret (1 app, 72 mins) and Pape Cheikh (21 apps, 748 mins). However, as the stats suggest, the players have been far too little utilised given their potential and performances to date. Both players featured regularly in preseason and were the talking point amongst supporters and pundits who follow OL closely. Cheikh most notably was a standout alongside Ndombele in the crucial away victory against Manchester City, which was the catalyst for OL’s progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League. So, the question on many OL supporters lips is… where is he?
Paying attention to Genesio’s press conferences, it’s obvious that he has some trust issues to iron out with his young players. These trust issues have been a common theme with Genesio since his tenure especially towards a few of the promising younger recruits brought in by Florian Maurice, not to mention academy players. Of the past 4 long-term managers (excluding Fournier), Genesio has been the one to utilise the least amount of academy players to date, with arguably the most available quality.
I’ll get to the defence on Monday
Of course it’s not just the midfield that is affected, as the defence has always been a noticeable sore point at OL, even before Umtiti’s departure. For the past two seasons, we have focused on keeping a stable central defence. The 17-18 season saw the duo Marcelo (49 apps, 4,367 mins) and Morel (41 apps, 3,544 mins) work rather successfully with Diakhaby grabbing the scraps, which saw his form drop from his impressive breakout season the year before. This season, with the master stroke addition of the dread-locked destroyer, Jason Denayer, Genesio has stuck to his guns in trying to keep a new-look central partnership as stable as possible.
However the issue early this season was the poor form of Marcelo, which forced Genesio to react with a 3-man defence and give power to Marçal, who was somewhat of a revelation in this system. This gave Genesio the opportunity to rotate the young Oumar Solet into the team with the protection of 2 experienced defenders around him. However, Genesio was not convinced in the small amount of time given to Solet, and dropped him from rotation. Despite Solet clearly being above the level of the reserve team in National 2 thus far and performing highly in the UEFA Youth League, he clearly has the ability and talent to warrant a greater attempt to slowly and intelligently integrate him… The mistake made with Diakhaby to be repeated again with Solet?
Les Gones without the Kids?
Player management is an issue that Genesio has struggled to rectify since his appointment as manager of OL. Despite squad turnover and effective recruitment, the same patterns of player mismanagement have reoccurred. In a club with the resources of OL we’ve yet to see the full potential of a young squad exploited, with sufficient competition for positions and the ambition of progressing as a strong European contender for the years to come. The additions of experience have so far all but added a short term impact only, while the team seems to be crying out for both a leader on the pitch and off the pitch.
I, as well as many other OL supporters can’t help but feel somewhat anguished by the questions of “what if” and “if only” – questions that are frequently asked by supporters and sympathisers of OL, the idea that “what the club could be” and “where the club is” are thoughts most of us share. We hope that the hierarchy at the club are also asking themselves these questions honestly, with the ambition of furthering the club on the sporting level. It’s absolutely vital that the club and its managers, present and future, remain true to the DNA of OL bringing through homegrown talents – some of which could be the greatest France has seen.
“Les Gones” – it’s in our name, it’s our heart and it’s most importantly our identity!