Lyon are one of Europe’s best clubs when it comes to youth development, with the likes of Karim Benzema, Alexandre Lacazette, Hatem Ben Arfa, Anthony Martial, Samuel Umtiti, Corentin Tolisso, Nabil Fekir and others all making their senior debuts at the club.

Lyon are flying this season in Ligue 1 and the Europa League with one of the youngest squads in Europe. Lucas Tousart (aged 20), Kenny Tete (22), Tanguy Ndombele (20), Maxwell Cornet (21) are all impressing for ‘Les Gones’ alongside the slightly more experienced Memphis Depay (23) and Fekir (24) as the club aim to challenge moneybags PSG over the next few years.

Skilful playmaker Houssem Aouar has started to break into the first team picture this season, and he announced his incredible talent to the World with a late brace to turn around Lyon’s game at Amiens last weekend. With the visitors trailing 1-0 with 10 minutes remaining, Aouar picked the ball up on the left touchline and exchanged passes with Ndombele before slotting home the equaliser.

It would get better for Lyon and Aouar in the 4th minute of stopping time when the youngster volleyed home Mariano Diaz’s cross to seal the three points for Lyon. Aouar’s performances have earned him a call up to the French Under 21 setup, and alerted Barcelona to his talents.

Aouar’s technique and intelligence would see him fit in to Barcelona nicely, but he would be advised to establish himself at Lyon first for what could be an exciting few years for one of the most exciting young teams in Europe.

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It has been confirmed by both parties: a €25 million fee will see French defender Samuel Umtiti move from Lyon to FC Barcelona this summer.

But what exactly are Barcelona getting for their money?

Well, given their current financial constraints, the Blaugrana are getting just about the best centre-back that €25 million can buy.

It had been a poorly kept secret that Barça were on the lookout for defensive re-enforcements this summer, with constant media links to the likes of Aymeric Laporte, Marquinhos and even Everton’s John Stones.

But all of the above names would command fees of at least €50 million – money that, currently, Barcelona just don’t have.

It seems crazy to think that one of the world’s biggest clubs, with some on the game’s most marketable players within their ranks, should be facing such fiscal restrictions.

But Barça’s inability to secure a shirt sponsorship deal for next season, coupled with the spiralling cost of their wage bill, means that money is a little tighter than it is in, say, Madrid or Manchester.

So, all things considered, Umtiti represents about as astute a purchase as possible for the Spanish champions.

The 22-year-old Lyon defender was superb in Ligue 1 last season as the bedrock of l’OL’s recovery from an early season blip to finish second in the table, and secure Champions League qualification.

Across a total of 30 league games last season, the young Frenchman averaged an impressive rating of 7.27, scoring once and maintaining a passing accuracy of 87.2%. That pass completion stat will be one of the key factors behind Barça’s interest as, if Umtiti is to succeed as a defender at the Camp Nou, he’ll be expected to not only thwart opposition attacks, but carry the ball forward and contribute to offensive manoeuvres.

With his combination of physical strength, athleticism and quality of passing, Umtiti is everything Barcelona look for in a centre-back, as well as everything they are currently missing.

Umtiti’s addition will not only bolster manager Luis Enrique’s options in central defence, but add a level of flexibility to the squad. Javier Mascherano has been utilised alongside Gerard Pique at the heart of Barça’s defence since his arrival from Liverpool in 2010, but with Umtiti in the mix, the combative Argentinian may feature in midfield more regularly, deputising for Sergio Busquets when needed.

Umtiti’s pace and ball-carrying skills could also see him fill in at left-back if Jordi Alba is ever unavailable for selection; the addition of one player has expanded Barça’s options in three positions.

The last defender to make the switch from Lyon to Barcelona was Eric Abidal in 2007, and parallels between the two French defenders are evident: both men are fast, athletic, left-footed and comfortable in position. Abidal won five La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues in his time in Catalonia, so if Umtiti makes half the impact of his compatriot, he’ll be considered an unqualified success.

Although he’d never played for the senior team prior to the tournament, Umtiti was selected as a back-up for Didier Deschamps’ Euro 2016 squad. And when injury ruled out Raphaël Varane and Jeremy Mathieu, the Lyon defender got the call to step up and take part in what could be an historic period for Les Bleus, if the pre-tournament favourites manage to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy on home soil.

With Umtiti’s continued involvement in the Euros, it is unlikely that his dream move to Barcelona will be rubber stamped before his national team duties are completed. But what better way to make an early impression with your future employers and supporters, than by showing them exactly what you’re capable of on the highest stage? Umtiti may be about to get that chance.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


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The man with all the flair, composure and skill to be tipped as the next Ronaldinho. One of few who could stand around and do nothing for 89 minutes, and then pull out an exquisite piece of magic in the last to win his team the game. The man who let himself go – in more ways than one – when he had it all to conquer. The man who’s now kept quiet and formed his remarkable resurgence.

Gérard Houllier once described Ben Arfa as “a genius”, Didier Deschamps says that “He has the ability to make the difference with one move,” and David Ginola was also quick to add praise, “Hatem is an amazingly talented player from France… He is a player that can produce magic when nobody expects it.”

It’s been some turn of events for the player who started his professional career with Lyon. Just last season, Ben Arfa was barred from playing professionally by Fifa after representing both Newcastle United and Hull. The French international had to take an enforced six months out of the game – a perfect timescale to regain his thoughts and composure.

Ben Arfa is emblematic of a player who can produce the desired and extraordinary magic when nobody expects it. From absolutely anywhere on the pitch, too. That’s the utter brilliance that you just can’t teach.

Ben Arfa’s career have reached highs, playing for France in Euro 2012 and being on an established list of winners for winning Trophées UNFP du football. And lows, being banned by Fifa and gaining a vast amount of weight. However, we can only focus on the present and not the past or the future, and the form he is in right now is truly too good to ignore.

With his time off, Ben Arfa went back to his roots – in Tunis, Tunisia. “I went back to the Tunis neighbourhood where I grew up,” he revealed in a recent interview. “It was important to go back. I found old childhood friends. In Tunis, I forgot I was a footballer. I lived a different life. I went to cafes. I found the images and sensations of my childhood.”

“I stayed in the fog a long time, a little lost, a little disorientated. Last winter I was going through an inner conflict. In my head a little devil was telling me to ‘let it [football] go’ and an angel [was] saying ‘don’t let it go’. It was a real fight. I was a prisoner. I had the feeling of being locked in a dark place without a door. I saw hell.”

It was obviously important for Ben Arfa to remind himself of where his origins lay and how far he’s come. To recover his football ability, he’d first need to regain control of his own mindset. And he did just that.

It’s like the Ben Arfa of old has come back out to play. Magical, magisterial runs from half-way, dizzying six defenders, giving the keeper the eyes and slotting it past him with supposedly his weaker foot – and yes, that did happen, in a Ligue Un match vs St Étienne back in September.

Scoring seven goals in 13 appearances, at a rate of a goal every 154 minutes, is truly spectacular from an attacking midfielder who sits behind two strikers. Ben Arfa tucks in-behind the two strikers – Alassane Pléa and Valère Germain – in a 4-1-2-1-2 formation deployed by Claude Puel.

Why Ben Arfa excels in such a tactical formation is the pure freedom he gets in-behind the two focal points of the team. When attacking, Pléa and Germain can peel off into wider areas, with Ben Arfa rising through the middle and taking on defenders one-by-one, something he’s perfectly suited for.

Ben Arfa’s always had a good footballing brain, he just hasn’t always applied it, because he loses concentration and becomes incredibly lazy. Although we are only three months into the new season, the Nice playmaker seems committed to his new team and approaching games with a more matured stance. With this type of demeanour, it has earned him a call-up to the France squad for the first time in three years.

He played well vs Germany at the Stade de France, finding pockets of space in-between the German midfield and defence, but like against England at Wembley on Tuesday night, there were greater matters that dwarfed those of football.

Hatem Ben Arfa’s now 28-years-old, he’s only got one more real chance of showing the world that he can perform consistency at the level that we all know he’s capable of. It would be such a shame if he derailed again and wasted such a special gift.

About the author – Liam Canning

Liam is a free-lance journalist who has featured on The Mirror, Telegraph, London Evening Standard, Independent, Squawka and FoutFourTwo.

twitter: @OffsideLiam


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Champions League fanatics will remember the times when Olympique Lyonnais became a main stay of the latter stages of the knockout rounds. A team filled with household names, a young Karim Benzema introducing himself to the world, Lisandro Lopez turning in performances that would endear him to Lyon fans forever and finally the mercurial Juninho scoring magnificent free kicks with his pioneering knuckleball technique. Some years earlier Olympique Marseille had won the first ever Champions League, defeating AC Milan with the likes of Marcel Desailly, Didier Deschamps and Rudi Voller gracing the Stade Velodrome. Marseille remain the only French team to ever win the Champions League and Lyon the only team to create any sort of legacy in Europe until the arrival of money bags Paris St Germain and Monaco.

But over a timeline spanning 18 months, French football has gone under it’s very own renaissance. Already well known for impressive scouting networks, player development and youth tournaments the French went back to their roots in an effort to bring success, as well as recognition, back to Ligue 1. Whilst the newly enriched and revered Bundesliga was winning the hearts of hipsters across Europe with it’s fan owned, fast and furious football, Ligue 1 teams undertook a mission to resuscitate the league.

The lower reaches of Ligue 1 has since become populated with young players who have graduated from the academy of their clubs , and those who have been bought in at a young age with the ideal being that they are sold for profit a short time later. Anthony Martial would be the prime example, bought in for €3,6m and sold 18 months later for €36m to Manchester United. Low risk, big profit with a lot of banking on potential that could disappear in a heart beat. But the game plan is, slowly but surely, working – especially for the clubs whose revenue streams allow for a series of cheap transfers in one period.

At the close of the Premier League transfer window Ligue 1 had banked £200m from player sales, with the majority of players going to clubs that hover around mid-table. To put this into context, over the previous six years Ligue 1 had sold for a combined total of £400m. Aston Villa have been the biggest advocate of the French market, bringing in a total of 4 players at a combined cost of £34m. Overall, there have been 18 new arrivals from France this summer alone.

Despite their vast amount of riches, Monaco have been incredibly shrewd with their transfer business over the past three years and despite the big name arrivals of Falcao and James Rodriguez stealing the limelight,  it is the smaller transfers that have proved to be the most beneficial. The big names achieved Champions League qualification, with the profit from their sales and increased revenue meaning that a stream of youngsters flocked to the Stade Louis II. Since then, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Layvin Kurzawa, Anthony Martial and Geoffrey Kondogbia have been sold for a massive profit to clubs in Spain, England and Italy. The club have also made a name for themselves as tough negotiators over the course of this summer in a big to make themselves self-sustainable.

As clubs from the lower reaches of Ligue 1 turn themselves into profitable businesses through player sales, the onus is on them to resinvest the money wisely. Especially in the case of Moanco, Lyon, Nantes and Lille whose bank accounts have been swollen by Premier League TV money, Indonesian investment from Italy and Qatari Euros from Paris. Should they reinvest this money as wisely as they have in the first instance, then it will not be long before another French team finds themselves as a mainstay of latter stage Champions League football like Paris St Germain currently are, and Monaco destined to become.

About the Author – Ben Jarman

Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.

Twitter: @sonikkicks


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