Nabil Fékir’s beaming smile in Real Betis transfer announcement video last night was no act – rather, the 26-year-old’s overwhelming feeling is that of relief.
The French World Cup winner yesterday evening joined a side that placed 10th in La Liga for €19.75m plus a maximum of €10m in bonuses, as well as a 20% sell-on percentage fee clause. A stunning drop in value from the €70m including bonuses that Lyon were seeking to earn out of Liverpool last summer before the French international’s move to Merseyside collapsed. Additionally, a remarkable re-calibration of personal ambition on the outset from the player, who had Europe’s best at his feet just 12 months ago.
RMC Sport’s lead football reporter Mohamed Bouhafsi’s comments last month in an interview with Get French Football News on Fékir and why LFC pulled the transfer are worth thinking about again as we reflect on this deal:
“I don’t know exactly why. The details, there are lots of different theories. Some people speak about the knee, about other things. I know that he underwent a medical with Liverpool, that all the videos had been prepared etc. I think it is possible that at the end of the day, Liverpool came back to Lyon to try to renegotiate terms and also with Fékir. But I think also it is possible, maybe, that not the entirety of Liverpool’s staff were convinced about bringing him in. Liverpool is a very organised club with a recruitment cell, technical staff, Director of Football and it is a club where there are lots of discussions. The process of signing players requires every member of the transfer committee to get behind the signing before Jürgen Klopp has the last word. Maybe that was not the case at the end with Fékir, especially at the price that was in the process of being agreed, which was well beyond €50m.”
Since theories relating to the quality of Fékir’s knee were leaked to the English press to explain Liverpool’s decision to pull out of a deal for the Frenchman, highly likely to have been done so by the Merseyside club themselves, the now former Lyon captain has felt the full force of the power of bull**** in media.
In December, Lyon President Aulas cast serious doubt on this speculation:
“At the final moment, the three parties did not find an agreement, but not just Liverpool and Lyon, who had had an agreement. There was a change of heart from Liverpool’s point of view, as we were in a tight situation in that Nabil was about to go to the World Cup, we decided to finish (talks). Nabil at the time was ok with all of that. I think it was one of the arguments that was used on the Liverpool side, but personally I do not think it was the real reason.”
The reality, of course, is that no club does an official channel interview with a player who has not passed a medical, nor do they assign him a shirt and put him in it for promo videos.
Two doctors currently holding notable positions in the French football landscape have both affirmed to Get French Football News that Fékir’s medical history is typical of an individual who suffers an ACL tear and that the Frenchman is not obviously in any worse medical shape than any other player to have suffered such an injury and then undergone the subsequent operation.
But mud sticks – scouts at Europe’s top clubs this season have surely had lingering doubts in the back of their minds after an unremarkable campaign from Fékir in 2018/19, combined with this poisonous speculation about his knee. The reasons for his unremarkable performances had much more to do with the difficulty that many World Cup winners faced in finding motivation to bring their top level for their club after a winning summer in Russia. From Paul Pogba to Adil Rami, the vast majority of the 23-man squad have endured hangover campaigns.
Fékir was no different, but remained decisive on the biggest stage, from scoring at the Ethiad Stadium to stun Manchester City in the Champions’ League group stage, to scoring an important goal against Shakhtar Donetsk in the final match-day to see OL progress to the knock-out rounds, to scoring against PSG in February to end their season-long unbeaten run.
His story is, of course, multi-faceted. The player has had an involved family in his career choices – one of the main plus points to the move to Real Betis was that the Spanish club agreed to bring his brother and fellow Lyon player Yassin Fékir to the club as part of the deal. Since his father’s relationship with his ex-agent Jean-Pierre Bernès deteriorated last summer, Fékir has been in a state of representational flux, his father refusing to sign his son to a super-agent who could certainly have brought the OL captain to a club with a higher-standing, instead basing his approach on the Kylian Mbappé take on career management (being a big enough talent to have your family run your transfer activity). In fact, it is believed that personal term demands made by Fékir’s camp to Liverpool was the most significant strain on negotiations last summer.
Another concern believed to have been held by members of Liverpool’s transfer committee was whether he had the physicality required to succeed in the Premier League. Perhaps as a reaction to this, this summer, Fékir’s mind has been squarely on a move to La Liga, which he views as the most technical of Europe’s top 5 leagues. In this vein, a move to Real Betis is smart. A fresh start, one unhampered by the malicious narrative that he is “crocked” and could never pass a medical with any club. He will also be the centre-piece of the Andalusian side’s attack and has been told by Barcelona Technical Director Eric Abidal that a transfer to Betis could plausibly provide Fékir with the springboard required to make a move to the Catalan giants in 24 months.
Money helps too – Fékir will be earning €600k a month pre-tax, with a contract until 2024, nearly double what he was currently earning at Lyon (€350k per month, pre-tax), with 12 months remaining on that particular contract.
With the right motivation, the Frenchman will now demonstrate that theories like Liverpool trying to last minute re-negotiate terms and fees after paying more than they anticipated for Alisson, to a lack of unanimousness on the part of the Reds’ transfer committee stand as far more plausible than the mirage of a failed medical perpetuated by English press.
The truth is almost always in these situations in the middle: a tough negotiation from Jean-Michel Aulas, concerns about his profile for the Premier League, a desire from the player’s camp to make exigent demands on Liverpool, a previous ACL injury undoubtedly all contributed to last summer’s false start.
Now, Fékir will draw a line under it in his quest to become Europe’s best pure number 10.