Lyon’s array of young talents make for a team to watch in Europe

LILLE, FRANCE - DECEMBER 1: Memphis Depay of Olympique Lyon during the French League 1 match between Lille v Olympique Lyon at the Stade Pierre Mauroy on December 1, 2018 in Lille France (Photo by Angelo Blankespoor/Soccrates/Getty Images)
LILLE, FRANCE - DECEMBER 1: Memphis Depay of Olympique Lyon during the French League 1 match between Lille v Olympique Lyon at the Stade Pierre Mauroy on December 1, 2018 in Lille France (Photo by Angelo Blankespoor/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

With a roster featuring some of the next generation of talents in France, Olympique Lyon have emerged as an under-the-radar team to watch for this season.

Last season’s Olympique Lyon team had an intriguing characteristic that made them a unique bunch. Lyon were defined by an identity that had them stand out amongst an overcrowded field of elites in Europe; it’s an identity that has shaped the club for decades.

The French club did not have a high-octane attacking unit nor were they an absolute force in defending. They were far from being a complete team by any broad-spectrum on the pitch. They did not even have a showcase talent that was worth the price of admission alone.

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What caught the attention of many world football observers was their youthful talents. They did not just field a couple of young players, but rather nearly an entire roster of them. Among the 30 players that made an appearance for the team last season, only an astonishing eight of them were 26 or older. (That number stands at seven this season).

Even with the promise of their youth, last season could be seen as much of a throwaway year with inconsistency issues coupled with their 3rd place league finish and failure to reach a domestic cup final. But the group did show the resilience that gave club supporters hope for the future.

They came away with multiple impressive results including wins against PSG in league play and against Manchester City in the group stage of the Champions League along with a 0-0 draw with FC Barcelona in the knockout stage of the Champions League.

Now as they begin to embark on a new season, the goal is crystal clear for the Ligue 1 club: continue to build around the core group of youngsters. In what is presumably a new era with Sylvinho as head coach and club legend Juninho as sporting director, there is great anticipation and also skepticism about what the club will be able to accomplish not only this season but for the foreseeable future.

But Lyon and their fans will not be the only ones keeping a close eye on the team throughout the campaign. Scouts from all across Europe will be watching and following every game to see which players are standouts amongst the group.

Even with the departures of Tanguy Ndombele, Ferland Mendy and Nabil Fekir, the French club will still have a multitude of returning players along with several new additions that will be sure to excite.

For instance, their attacking unit features a dynamic group of some of the league’s brightest goal-scorers. 25-year-old Memphis Depay leads the way as the team’s all-around forward; he combined for 28 goal contributions in all competitions last season while playing in multiple positions.

The under-21 duo of Martin Terrier and Maxwel Cornet might not attract some of the attention that other talents at their age level have received as of late, but their skillset of pace and positioning make them a valuable piece of Lyon’s attack. 19-year-old Amine Gouiri is one to watch for as opportunities to feature in more games may be on the horizon this upcoming season.

Lyon’s plethora of midfield players have received the most attention among scouts in Europe notably because of their two rising gems: Houssem Aouar and Lucas Tousart.

Aouar has become one of the most prominent midfield prospects in Europe for his passing and creative abilities. Even while playing in deeper positions on the pitch, the 21-year-old managed to make a strong impact last season with an average of 48.2 passes per game to go along with a fair 9.58 passes to the final third per 90 in Ligue 1 play.

On the other hand, Tousart is a talent that has shown more of his abilities in defending with 1.3 tackles won per game and an impressive 56.1% of ground duels won in league play. His aggressive prowess to win the ball back by any means on the pitch has illustrated that he could very well be capable of playing as a central defensive midfielder in any formation.

Defensively, there are not a staggering amount of prospects as there are in other positions, but Lyon do have a couple that may catch the attention of scouts down the line. The club’s big summer transfer addition, Joachim Andersen, is set to compete to become a long-term starter at centre-back.

The Danish international impressed winning over 50% of his tackles, aerial duels and ground duels for Serie A side Sampdoria last season. Right-back Leo Dubois is another talent to watch as he will continue to receive opportunities to flourish being the team’s main right-back.

The list goes on and on with Lyon. From Lenny Pintor to Jean Lucas to Kenny Tete, long-term depth will be far from a concern for the French club. With their first-team talents down to their youth system, Lyon is stacked with prospects that are capable enough to eventually be an everyday contributor for the club.

Lyon’s influx of youth over the years that has helped them build this team has not been an anomaly. As alluded to before, this is essentially their club identity.

Since Jean-Michel Aulas took over the club during the 1980s, he has strived to establish Lyon as one of the top clubs in all of Europe. It all paid off during their reign of French dominance during the 2000s but as it slowly came to an end over time, the club has veered towards building up a prestigious youth system with both a strong academy and scouting department.

As today’s modern game is dominated by team’s with exponential financial resources, Lyon have turned to cheaper solutions in the form of developing prospects in order to compete. And it has paid off. In this decade, the club has produced a number of established talents including Hugo Lloris, Miralem Pjanic, Samuel Umtiti, Alexandre Lacazette, Corentin Tolisso and Tanguy Ndombele. The club were able to generate well over €200M in sales just from the aforementioned six players.

The most distinguishing aspect about how Lyon operates their youth system is that they are not completely reliant on their own academy to produce talent. One would figure that with a roster made up of almost entirely under-23 players that many were homegrown players that came straight from their own academy. This is not entirely the case for Lyon since they have recently placed a broader focus on scouting and recruiting young prospects from all around Europe.

To put it into perspective, just six of Lyon’s current players on their first-team roster, including Aouar, have come up from the team’s youth system — an incredible figure by any means.

As typified by their roster, Lyon recruit and scout players from across Europe. Whether it is by researching through their database or scouting the player, Lyon are relentless in their pursuit to find hidden gems or talents that have gone unnoticed by other clubs — a model that teams like Sevilla have embedded into their club philosophy.

But what makes Lyon stand out among teams like Sevilla is their knack to find and develop young talents. Scouting and acquiring promising prospects is one thing, but a team’s ability to integrate them into the squad is what truly makes a development program a renowned one in Europe.

According to a study done by the CIES Football Observatory, the average age at which players were signed by Lyon among those that played for the club in Ligue 1 since the start of last season was 22.6, which ranked 3rd among teams in Europe’s top five leagues behind RB Leipzig (21.4) and Real Madrid (21.9). This exemplifies that when Lyon look for reinforcements for their team, they are seeking young talents to develop for the future rather than veterans that can make an immediate impact.

Lyon are essentially growing into a factory that keeps churning out first-team ready prospects; it is in their club DNA. As a result, the club have gone all in on laying this out as their blueprint on how to put a team together.

While Lyon continually have an eye on the future, their current nucleus of first-team players should not be overlooked. Yes, they are not a current big club that constantly attracts fans from around the world nor do they have that one shining star like a Kylian Mbappe or Frenkie de Jong. What they do have is a roster filled with the brightest talents in France that will make for must-see football.

Needless to say, the expectations will be high for first-year manager Sylvinho. He has experience in working with younger players with his previous work as an assistant for the Brazilian national team, but it is a whole new world when one has complete control in managing the team. The talent and depth are there across the board, but it will be his job to select the right tactical approach and play style in order to get the best out of every player.

If the team can live up to expectations and show immense progress among their youth, they may pose a challenge to PSG’s rule of French football and could also make another run into the Champions League knockout stage.

Next. The uncertain dilemma of Edinson Cavani’s future with PSG. dark

Nonetheless, the 2019/2020 Lyon team will surely be a group to watch.