Nabil Fekir's resurgence is rocking French football
Lyon might’ve lost Alexandre Lacazette, Corentin Tolisso and Maxime Gonalons this summer, three significant players, but they also regained one - and not just any player.
The resurrection of Nabil Fekir, once touted as Lyon’s next big thing, is causing a stir in France this season and has at times even threatened to take the limelight away from PSG.
Fekir’s incredible run of form this season is much down to Lacazette’s departure, in fact. Whereas Fekir was previously restricted in a system catered towards the striker, who signed for Arsenal this past summer, he is now the new focal point of a young Lyon side. Injuries, however, have also been a burden for Fekir’s progression.
Major things were expected of Fekir when he broke through into the team in 2014. Positioned in a 4-4-2 alongside Lacazette, he scored 13 goals and produced nine assists - showcasing even at an early stage the rounded nature of his game.
The following season, even more, was expected of Fekir. It would be his first full season, and there was pressure on him to perform consistently. In some quarters he was even hailed as the next major star to leave Ligue 1 for an elite club.
Disaster would strike, however, and a call-up to France was bittersweet for the player. After producing yet another scintillating performance for Lyon with a hat-trick against Caen, the player joined up with the French setup after turning down advances from Algeria, the country of his origins.
Fekir would injure himself in the game with Portugal, coming off on a stretcher with a face drenched in agony. While he would return for the final stretch of the season, Fekir was of course off the pace and playing catch-up.
Even in the following season, Fekir seemed to lack the explosiveness he emerged on the scene with. One his finest abilities his to pick up the ball and drive with both power and pace at an opponent, speeding past them. While his first full season back after the horrific injury was decent with 14 goals and 12 assists, there was a feeling the spark was missing.
His club boss Bruno Genesio, of course, denied such a thing, and insisted Fekir was simply working his way back and generally the expectations surrounding the player are often unrealistic and different from ‘other’ players.“
There is such an expectation, a demand from Nabil, that one has the impression that has had an average season,“ said Genesio ahead of the current campaign. It seems Fekir has not rested on that praise, and instead looked to improve himself - going as far as to surpass the performances of when he first emerged on the scene.
With 11 goals in 12 Ligue 1 games so far this season, it’s Fekir’s best ever start and has already earned him one player of the month award. If he can maintain such a level of form even bigger prizes will surely be in his lap come the end of the season. There’s also the small matter of renewed interested in his services.
Arsenal, apparent long-term admirers, Barcelona and Real Madrid are all said to be monitoring Fekir’s progression extremely closely and it’s impossible for them not to be enamoured with what they’ve seen thus far. Last season Fekir was often deployed out wide in a 4-3-3, situated on the right in a role designed to engineer chances for Lacazette.
This year, with Genesio returning to a 4-4-2, Fekir’s been handed second striker duties with new signing Mariano Diaz, who has arrived from Real Madrid and also impressed this term. Fekir is not only creating chances for the Spanish starlet but also taking them himself - as shown by his goal return.
Fekir has shown some clear attacking qualities. Most notably the rapid, incisive footwork, and explosive bursts of pace when looking to evade opponents. His stature is deceiving too, and after once being told he was too slight as a youngster, is now stronger and more balanced. He’s able to hold off opponents and take more challenges without being knocked off the ball. His finishing has been deadly, and especially lethal inside the penalty area where he seems to sniff chances out adeptly and put them away without second-guessing.
He’s not just been a finisher though, and wearing the captain’s armband has assumed the responsibility such a role requires. He’s leading the team extremely well and aiming to get Lyon back amongst the big guns, not only in France but Europe as a whole as their Europa League campaign rumbles on.
His undoubted highlight of the season was against great rivals Saint-Etienne however. There, bagging a brace with a lethal display of goalscoring, he caused a riot in the stands with an iconic celebration that was a nod to Lionel Messi when he held up his shirt in El Clasico. Fekir was simply irresistible that game, and showed then more than any other game he was well and truly back.
Fekir was born just 8km away from Lyon’s bright, shiny new Parc OL stadium. Leading the team was perhaps his destiny - but they also perhaps wouldn’t begrudge him at the club if even bigger things were also inevitable.