Alexandre Lacazette 21 Striker Lyon
Times are tough for Olympique Lyonnais. The purple patch of the 00s is disappearing into history and l'Ol are no longer the powerhouse they were. There are obvious reasons why this has come about. Ligue 1 in France enjoys a greater level of parity at the top than some leagues in Europe, and although not every team can hope to win the title it is certainly not unusual since Lyon's last title for an unexpected team to take the honours.
Paris Saint-Germain are doing their level best to restore France's one-horse race, spending big on some of Europe's most promising and most iconic players. But Lyon's backwards step has not been one entirely of external making. After winning seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles, l'Ol now haven't lifted the trophy since 2008, and with PSG making waves it seems more unattainable than ever.
Last year, it was arguably the team's lack of experience that caused them to fall short as Montpellier broke the tape. But there are gems being unearthed too, and one of those is likely to prove to have been local boy Alexandre Lacazette. The striker-cum-winger has made almost 50 Ligue 1 appearances for Lyon since his debut against Auxerre at the end of the 2009/10 season.
Lacazette has featured as frequently this season as last, and Lyon have been fighting it out with PSG and Olympique Marseille at the top of the table; last year's Coupe de France victory won't have done much to sate chairman Jean-Michel Aulas' appetite for success, and Rémi Garde has his team punching hard already this term.
Lacazette played 90 minutes of the final against Quevilly as a winger, where he has really found his rhythm despite being a potent striker throughout his youth career. Garde has options in the attacking third, and Lacazette is being asked to perform on the flanks in order to help make room for Lisandro Lopez, Bafetimbi Gomis and Jimmy Briand, all of whom have played a big part so far this season. The 21-year-old is settling in very nicely indeed.
He's taken well to the professional game, but at international level he's yet to make the step to the senior team. He has played for France at Under-16, Under-17, Under-18, Under-19 and Under-20 levels, and is now a regular for the Under-21s.
Les Bleuets suffered a heart-breaking elimination at the final hurdle in qualifying for the UEFA Euro 2013 Under-21 Championships in Israel, winning the first leg of their playoff tie against Norway but suffering a first half collapse in an epic second leg. 5-2 down on aggregate with fewer than ten minutes remaining, Lacazette gave the French hope and then helped dash it by being sent off two minutes after scoring. France did score again, but were a goal short come the final whistle. The team's coach, Erick Mombaerts, has since been sacked.
It's a shame, too, because Lacazette has form in UEFA tournaments. In 2010 he scored three times in the Under-19 championships including the winner in the final, in which the French defeated Spain 2-0. Predictably, several members of the Spanish Under-19 side that year have already gone on to bigger and better things.
Lacazette is a bundle of energy, always on his toes and forever troubling defenders, who dare not dawdle in his presence. Like Gomis, the consistency of his finished is sometimes questioned but he is generally considered to have plenty of quality, and he's been in good form this season and this calendar year as a whole. He is recognised as a reliable player for Lyon, a considerable position for a player of such modest years.
He has good balance, is comfortable in possession and has a deadly shift of direction that can take defenders out of contention entirely. He dribbles with both feet and can score with both too, although his most dangerous weapon is a powerful right-footed shot that is more or less unstoppable when he really gets hold of it. That right peg could easily get a reputation - in his pre-professional days, Lacazette demonstrated a good deal of quality from set pieces.
This is a player who's fitted right into his local team, a regular for one of France's biggest clubs. His impact there will continue to grow, his foibles will be ironed out, and the goals will follow. But the real challenge for Lacazette is not a domestic one. Breaking into Didier Deschamps' first team thinking is a not insignificant test of his mettle.
"Great potential, developed well last year but Lyon struggled without experience. Still only 21, impressed in Europe and domestic cups." - Jonathan Johnson (French Football Weekly)
C The next international step is the hardest