After a tumultuous season for Olympique Lyonnais, changes are afoot with the departure of key cogs Corentin Tolisso, captain Maxime Gonalons and Alexandre Lacazette. As the summer began with the club linked to a number of high-profile targets, Les Gones first acquisition was for Brazilian left-back Fernando Marçal from Benfica after a stellar season on loan in Ligue 1. Those looking for a marquee signing may have been underwhelmed. Though with Lyon’s history of success with Brazilian players and his skill set, Marçal may finally reach the full potential of his talents not unlike his compatriot Michel Bastos did when he signed for OL in 2009.
The 28-year-old Sao Paulo-born fullback arrives in Lyon with little time to waste. Not only to achieve club glory previously impossible at his former clubs, but to fulfill his ultimate football ambition: playing for his national team. “My dream is to play with the Brazilian National team and I hope OL will help me reach this goal too”, he said at June 19th unveiling.
Bastos also cited international ambitions as one of the reasons for coming to the club. European fans will remember Bastos for his eye for goal and technical abilities as an attacking player. Marçal will only be interested in replicating his role at the 2010 World Cup where Bastos started all five games for the Seleção at left-back.
There is no question Marçal will have his work cut out for him to displace arguably the best left-back in the world Marcelo or Filipe Luis for a spot on the Brazilian team at next summer’s FIFA World Cup.
He will be keen to impress Brazil coach Tite should any injuries arise and he will have ample opportunity to do so with OL’s domestic & Europa League fixtures. Lyon’s longstanding ability to cultivate the talent of Brazilians is well-known, and Bastos isn’t the only player they’ve elevated to the international level. “In Brazil, OL is the best French club, thanks to all the Brazilian players who played here”, Marçal said.
He is the 16th Brazilian to don the blue and red of OL. Any Brazilian at the club dreams of emulating the success of Juninho Pernambucano, a club icon in his 8 years in Lyon, highlighted by his 2005-06 Ligue 1 UNFP Player of the Year. The free kick wizard earned 40 caps for his nation and scored at the 2006 World Cup. His frequent midfield partner, Edmílson, launched his Brazil career at Lyon. He too won 40 caps for the Seleção, scoring his only international goal and appearing in 6 of 7 matches in South Korea as Brazil won their 5th World Cup in 2002. Cris is the gold-standard all Brazilians are judged on in the Lyon defence. Over 200 appearances and four Ligue 1 titles etched his name into club lore. While he only made 17 appearances for Brazil, he can show his 2004 Copa America winner’s medal with pride.
With Cris coaching the U19s and Juninho reportedly close to rejoining the club as sporting director, Marçal will have no shortage of friendly faces to help acclimate to life at the club. On the field, he will be joined by compatriot and former Manchester United red devil, Rafael, a player he quipped about playing against as U18s.
With the two likely to serve as the first-choice fullbacks, their respective pace, technical ability and attacking instincts will be a lot to handle for opposing backlines and midfielders attempting to track their overlapping runs. Manager Bruno Genesio’s penchant for using inverted wingers who like to cut inside make runs in the opposition’s half by the fullbacks even more important. When you factor in the team’s tendency to control possession, an average of 56.7% last season according to whoscored.com, Marçal will have plenty of chances to contribute in the attack.
While on loan at Guingamp last year, he lead his team in chances created (54) and equaled FC Nantes’ Leo Dubois for the most assists by a defender (7), though Marçal did so in nearly 5 full games less. While his average of 8 defensive actions per match was third best on the team, according to Squawka.
He will be an immediate upgrade at his position from Jeremy Morel. While his high work rate afforded him plenty of attacking opportunities, his 5 assists and 1 goal since joining from Marseille two seasons ago left a lot to be desired. At age 33 and Lyon signing Ferland Mendy, a promising, young left-back from Le Havre, the bulk of his game time next year may come at his auxiliary position in central defence.
Fernando Marçal’s signing may not have come with much fanfare, but he has all the tools to cement his status alongside Michel Bastos and many others in Lyon’s jogo bonito history.