While every club aspires to win silverware, reaching the semi finals of the 2020 Champions League is a run that Lyon can be proud of.
Despite finishing seventh in the cancelled 2019/20 Ligue 1 season, head coach Rudi Garcia took his side to the latter stages of Europe’s top competition – where they not only competed with the elite, they knocked out Manchester City and Juventus along the way.
Lyon’s league finish doesn’t do justice to a promising squad that has quietly been assembled. They’re getting the best out of Memphis Depay and centre back Jason Denayer, have a criminally underrated forward in Moussa Dembele and compliment their other positions on the field with a number of exciting young talents.
One of those famed academy talents is Houssem Aouar.
Aouar is stealing the headlines after an impressive season with the club, particularly during their run through the Champions League knockout stages. He assisted the goal in each leg of their tie against Juventus in the round of 16, before grabbing another two assists in the quarter final against Pep Guardiola’s City.
While the mainstream footballing world has suddenly caught wind of Aouar, it hasn’t been a case of him becoming an overnight sensation.
The 22-year-old joined Lyon aged 11 and made his senior debut in February 2017, quietly breaking into the first team setup. He scored his first goal for the club in Lyon’s 7-1 thrashing of AZ Alkmaar in the 2017 Europa League, and continued to develop his game within the French competitions.
Lyon were quick to recognise the talents of yet another academy star and handed Aouar the coveted number eight shirt that was left vacant following Corentin Tolisso’s move to Bayern Munich in June 2017.
Aouar has since become one of Lyon’s hottest commodities and one of Europe’s most talented young midfielders. A central midfielder by trade, he is a superb dribbler of the ball and plays his best games playing as a number eight for his side – whereby he is allowed to roam forward and take on opposition defenders, as well as playing slide rule through balls.
Yet to be capped by France at senior level, Aouar has demonstrated a vast amount of technical quality for a player aged just 22 years old. While his defensive contributions are lacking – and he still relies too much on his right foot – he is capable of starting attacks from deep, utilising his dribbling skills down both flanks before popping balls through the middle or going for goal himself.
Nine goals and ten assists during 2019/20 demonstrates how much of an impact he’s had on proceedings.
It’s this aesthetic playing style and efficient attacking output – as well as his tactical awareness – that has made Aouar such a mouthwatering prospect to top European clubs.
His impressive season has predictably seen him linked with just about every top club in Europe. Real Madrid are the latest to have been linked with a move for the Frenchman, and while their interest might not be concrete, it would make sense given their interest in Ajax’s Donny van de Beek – a player who is similar to Aouar.
Los Blancos won La Liga during 2019/20, but still have areas they need to improve in their squad – or they risk falling into the same trap that Barcelona have by lumbering themselves with an aged, out of date squad. Aouar is one player who could slot into their midfield, while Van De Beek could instead head to Barça following the appointment of fellow Dutchman, Ronald Koeman, as the club’s new manager.
On the ball, Real Madrid have often set up with a three man midfield that Aouar could – on paper – slot into seamlessly. With Luka Modric getting no younger, Zinedine Zidane must find a creative midfielder who is capable of opening up attacks from deep. Aouar, if used correctly, could be that player as such a system allows him the freedom to roam forward and into space in the channels – while his defensive responsibility will be somewhat diminished.
The issue is Madrid’s inherently unusual decision to discard promising youth players of late. They sold Achraf Hakimi to Inter – instead of allowing him to battle with Dani Carvajal or even play as a right midfielder – and are willing to sell young left back Sergio Reguilon this summer.
If Aouar isn’t afforded regular game time, you struggle to see him settling well in Madrid and that’s fundamentally important if you’re going to make it at a world renowned club like Real. Reducing his time on the pitch could also harm his long term development, so staying at Lyon – where he’d remain the main man and occasional captain – would actually prove to be the better option.
That said, you only have to look at the success Karim Benzema – a fellow OL youth academy talent – has enjoyed with Los Blancos, and you realise that it’s an opportunity that Aouar would struggle to turn down.
As with any highly-rated Lyon star, a move to an elite club is likely a matter of when and not if. For Houssem Aouar, the future is bright – and this is a name that we’re going to be talking about for many years to come.