One of the latest talents off the seemingly unending Lyon conveyor belt, Houssem Aouar is a big factor in Lyon being sanguine about Nabil Fekir’s likely departure. At his best, a Galaxy chocolate bar of a footballer who, either from central midfield or to the left of a midfield two or a diamond, glides across the pitch, seamlessly linking play with his range of short and long passes.
A beautiful first touch, an innate finder of space and an ever-improving ability to support the attack make him one of the best young prospects in Europe. He isn’t about speed or power, but elegance and vision. He won’t beat his man with Riverdance-style stepovers à la Cristiano or Mbappe, but with close control, a body swerve and an awareness of how, when and where to shift the ball; Ligue 1 rival Fayçal Fajr recently described it as “a bit like a dance”.
That said, he is also a surprisingly good tackler and rarely shirks his defensive responsibilities. Liverpool had already shown interest before Aouar had even signed professional terms with Lyon. Barcelona have been sniffing around and Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri is another fan. Even on the international stage he is the subject of a tug of war, with Algeria trying to persuade the France U21 international to switch allegiance.
2018 has been…
…Lyon-like. 2017/18 was Aouar’s breakout season and, like Lyon, he improved as the season went on, settling into an effective midfield threesome and being an integral part of Les Gônes’ march to third place. Three goals and two assists added to numerous penultimate passes as he provided the foil to Lucas Tousart’s defensive stability and Tanguy Ndombele’s explosivity and provided support to the likes of Nabil Fekir and Memphis Depay.
Again like Lyon, the beginning of the 2018/19 season has been relatively slow, and there has sometimes been the nagging feeling that Aouar was a little too reactive, playing well when Lyon played well but also playing poorly when Lyon played poorly, rather than taking the game by the scruff of the neck and dictating matches himself.
However, as the season has warmed up, so has Aouar. He is Lyon’s joint-top league scorer – already just one short of last year’s total – and in recent weeks, and in particular with some of his team-mates struggling for form, he has gone up a level to become a far more proactive part of Lyon’s progress, particularly in the Champions League.
At the same time, he has been one of the top performers among the France U21 team, scoring two goals on their way to qualifying for next summer’s European Championship with nine wins and a draw out of 10.
His recent performance against Manchester City has brought Aouar to far wider attention – and the very public personal congratulations received from Pep Guardiola (and rumoured contact between Manchester City and Aouar’s people the next day) won’t have gone unnoticed by his other suitors.
He says that he is happy in Lyon for now, and President Jean-Michel Aulas has responded to transfer rumours by saying that the door is firmly locked shut. With Fekir and Ndombele more likely to leave in the summer, Aouar may well stay put for another season. But continue his steady progression and a very high-profile move to one of Europe’s elite clubs will come sooner rather than later.
C+ – Has all the ingredients to be a delicious footballer. Needs to be more consistent