HOT TAKE | Lyon should give up on Houssem Aouar and trust Rayan Cherki

In his short time at Lyon, new coach Laurent Blanc has switched to a 3-5-2 setup, made OL more defensively-minded, used Alexandre Lacazette in tandem with Moussa Dembélé in attack and dropped Tetê and Karl Toko-Ekambi, favourites of previous coach Peter Bosz. While the effectiveness of those changes remains uncertain after an undulating start, one switch that hasn’t worked is Houssem Aouar’s return. It’s now clear that it’s time for Lyon to give up on Aouar and move on.

Emerging from Lyon’s famed academy a graceful creative teenager, Aouar was seen as OL’s next great prospect and slated for one of European football’s elite clubs. Vision, passing range and an ability to effortlessly drift past midfield opponents thrilled during his early outings. However, now 24, that version of Aouar hasn’t been seen for years.

A brief uptick in October 2021, while Aouar was asked to play with more freedom with striker Dembélé injured, came to nothing, much like various other fleeting improvements over the last few seasons, such as his display against Manchester City in the 2020 Champions League quarter-final. A goal and promising performance against Montpellier last month is seemingly the latest example.

For much of the past two or more years, much of the excitement around Aouar has been derived from the thought of what his talent might have once allowed him to achieve, rather than any sort of useful consistent output or quality. During that time Aouar has become a ghost. Both of his former self and as an on-field presence. A lack of injuries, positional changes and new coaches have had no tangible effect.

At the heart of Blanc’s system, Aouar has perfect conditions to succeed but, overall, little has changed as games largely continue to happen around him. His technical ability and talent are undeniable but Aouar lacks the gumption to apply that talent and impose himself on games. Rather than maturing as a player and taking on more responsibility as he enters his mid-twenties, that lightweight, drifting demeanour has only worsened of late. 

Aouar’s contract is up at the end of the season and, despite talk of an extension – likely influenced by OL’s fear of losing a player once subject to €50m offers for nothing – Lyon should let his deal expire and move on. In truth, Lyon have struggled to find genuine suitors for Aouar of late. Real Betis and Nottingham Forest made unsuccessful moves this summer. Chances of Aouar realising his potential now seem slim at best and he now only serves to block players far more worthy of Lyon’s time, such as teenage midfielders Johann Lepenant and Rayan Cherki.

Cherki is seen by many as the most exciting talent ever produced by Lyon’s academy. Having emerged as a 16-year-old to dismantle Nantes in a Coupe de France tie, the attacking midfielder, now 19, has been oddly overlooked by a string of coaches. So much so that Cherki is considering his long-term future at the club. More consistency is needed but he’s repeatedly shown in fleeting sub outings he can make a difference if given the chance. A more physical, proactive, pacey and bullish option, Cherki’s ceiling is sky-high but he needs game time to kickstart his development.

As it stands, however, Lyon risk damaging Cherki’s potentially considerable growth for the dream of what Aouar once might have been able to become. Lyon trusted Aouar as a 19-year-old, it’s time Cherki was afforded that same chance.

GFFN | Adam White

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