“If you’re good enough, you’re old enough!” The cliche mantra that all aspiring young Olympique Lyonnais academy players whisper to themselves as they drift asleep every night, it’s also a mentality that runs rich through the veins of the clubs DNA. From the president Jean Michel Aulas and to the supporters Lyonnais and worldwide, it’s no longer a well kept secret that the club is topped to the brim with young talented players all fizzing to become the next breakout star, and add their name to the rich list of stars to have passed through the colours of Olympique Lyonnais.
The summer mercato for OL has been as active as always. Big name departures of Ferland Mendy, Tanguy Ndombele and Nabil Fekir have paved the way for some interesting arrivals with varying degrees of status that accompany them. Naturally as with any squad upheaval there is a new hierarchy forming within the pro playing group. As seen in preseason with so many big name players committed to National selection, new coach Sylvinho was forced to rely on many of the young players available to him for the majority of the matches. Some of these youth, namely Boubacar Fofana, Jean Lucas, Amine Gouiri and late comers Maxence Caqueret and Oumar Solet, proved themselves to already have a level more than interesting heading into the new season.
The form of preseason was mixed and clouded and thus so the evaluation of the quality available when selecting a first team 11 to take into the Ligue 1 season, was equally clouded. Regardless it was obvious to both the leaders and supporters that there were two issues within the current pro group – A) A difference in quality and experience between the first choice 11 and the reserve players and B) too many young players of a similar age, level and profile for the number of available positions in the pro group of 25 that Sylvinho wishes to work with. There is just 3 weeks remaining in the transfer window and with a few holes still to be plugged in the first team, recruitment is still on the agenda.
“I would say we have not finished. We want to go get another player but we did not decide the post. I am satisfied but do not forget that we lost many players like Mendy, Fekir, Ndombele … We must analyze on a case by case basis.” – “There are other cases, young people who have been here for 2/3 years, it’s difficult for them to stay at this level without playing. It’s almost inhuman. We will see about loans. I will not give names but we will evaluate who can go out and then come back and help us later.“ Spoken by Sporting Director Juninho on OLTV last Tuesday about the next phase of the clubs transfer window. While he opened the door to an arrival or two he specifically mentioned the plan for the youth players who have yet to break into the group successfully despite having been upon the fringes for some time. Some names have started surfacing in media outlets as to which players Juninho may have been talking about. OL have never had a well thought out loan strategy in the past so it will be interesting to see now with the arrival of Juninho, if this trend can be redirected and used as an effective tool in future sales and player progress.
Not Good enough or Too Good
Lenny Pintor has already been loaned to Ligue 2 outfit ESTAC Troyes, the player brought in to compensate the departure last season of academy graduate Myziane Maolida. He himself has failed to prove much either for the reserves or the first team despite being given few chances. A loan will at least give him experience and increase his value should he be deemed surplus to our needs. With Melvin Bard the latest player to have signed pro, the club currently has 41 players on professional contracts including Zachary Brault-Guillard already on loan to Montreal Impact which means under the current regulations set by the LFP, the club can still loan out a maximum of 7 players inside of France. Knowing that 25 will comprise the main group used by Sylvinho the rest will be limited to the reserve team in National 2 – some even U19, a loan for some of our players is going to be vital for their progression who may find themselves outside the main group utilised by Sylvinho this season.
The signing of Jeff Reine Adelaide as the potential 3rd midfielder in Sylvinho’s 433 means there must be a departure in this area as a priority to avoid the stack of box-to-box midfielders starting to grow in the group. The first name that comes to mind is Pape Cheikh Diop. Signed from Celta Vigo for 10M€ in 2017, he has struggled to break into the first team or even feature much as a rotational player under former manager Bruno Genesio, whether his lack of match time was due to his rawness or just a lack of player rotation and trust by Genesio in the previous campaign. The talent is there as displayed against OL’s dominant performance over Manchester City in the Champions League, which Cheikh himself played a pivotal role. However, apart from this match the player has often been too raw and failed to convert his potential into a current level of worth to the first team. According to Sylvinho it now seems he will be loaned back to his previous club Celta Vigo with a 9M€ option to buy clause. I was very supportive of a loan for the player though far less supportive of the option to buy clause which fails to recoup any profit on the player despite his age and potential – not good business.
Another player I hope to be loaned is Striker Yann Kitala. The 21 year old Parisian born striker has been in the youth set up for some time and never really performed well enough to be in the future plans of the club. In the past he has fallen behind fellow striker Gouiri and former OL attacker Myziane in the reserve pecking order and only played bit part roles to supplement injuries and unavailability to others ahead of him. No longer super young and failing to impress in preseason a loan is the best option for both player and club in the hope that he can gain some experience and exposure to further his own career but also further the clubs bank account at least little.
If you weren’t paying attention to OL’s pre-seaon (don’t blame you) then you probably missed the incredible goal scored by newcomer Boubacar Fofana. He began his senior career with SAS Epinal and then with AS Saint-Priest before joining OL last January for 4 years and immediately going on loan to Gazalec Ajaccio for the remainder of the season. His arrival in preseason went completely under the radar until our first glimpse at the player and he immediately became a fan favorite with his close ball control, speed, shooting and appetite to run at defenders, not to mention his threat from free kicks. While still a raw talent the soon to be 21 year old should be loaned preferably to a Ligue 2 side that will value his abilities and give him the play time he needs to refine his impressive and vast skill set.
We have seen the OL reserves struggle last season and the trend seems to be repeating itself this season. With many players above the level of Nat 2 there seems to be a lack of motivation (not unfamiliar with OL players young, old, male or female) killing a lot of the group chemistry and in turn focusing on the individuality for results on the pitch. To avoid this behavior and any significant drop in player potential there are two more players ahead of their peers but not in the immediate plans of Sylvinho, they are 20 year old’s Ousseynou Ndiaye and Paul Devarrawaere (quite the mouth-full). Ndiaye showed some beautiful entries in his preseason minutes and has made some huge progress this past year. A tall, physical and technical box-to-box midfielder the talent is obvious it’s just sometimes inhibited by a shy persona, a loan to Ligue 2 may give him the confidence he needs.
Defensive midfielder Paul Devarrawaere has been in the youth set-ups at OL for some time and has been a starter for most of his time in the academy. Not in the plans in the foreseeable future and having been overtaken by Maxence Caqueret, poor Paul I feel is on the outer and a loan away like those before him in Elisha Owusu and Christopher Martins Pereira is probably best for the player and club. Hopefully it can get him some game time but also increase the players value on a future departure. He represents a position that OL do not know how to develop and if you thought the club was bad at developing central defenders than we are as equally poor at integrating defensive midfielders. D’arpino, Owusu, Alexis Martial and CMP a recent list of well known academy defensive midfielders failing to make their mark at the club.
With the clubs ambitions starting to aim higher and higher and the progression we are starting to see competition wise, the trend is developing of bringing in players of an already achieved level albeit still young, they possess less risk and greater profit from future sales which is still unfortunately a factor when signing players. This is a step away from the old habit of promoting players from within and giving them the time in the first team they needed to integrate and establish. If new sporting director Juninho can take control of the academy and develop a new alternate route for our academy players to integrate into the first team via an intelligent loan out system, then the club can continue to move ahead with their ambitions while allowing the youth conveyor belt to continue spitting out some of Frances top young talents.