Why all of Europe’s biggest clubs are after Lyon’s latest prodigy Rayan Cherki

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Why all of Europe’s biggest clubs are after Lyon’s latest prodigy Rayan Cherki
Rayan Cherki in action for France U21s
Rayan Cherki in action for France U21s
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Teenager Rayan Cherki (19) has put himself in the shop window after a standout campaign with Lyon was followed up by a strong showing for France in this summer’s European Under-21 Championship.

Lyon has proven to be a real hotbed when it comes to producing footballing stars. They’re responsible for nurturing and rearing the likes of Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette, Nabil FekirHoussem Aaour, Corentin Tolisso, Loic Remy and Karim Benzema. Their latest star, however, has the potential to outshine them all. 

Cherki is fast becoming one of the most talked about young footballers in Europe, especially on the back of his recent strong showing for France at this summer's European Under-21 Championships, he’s already amassed several impressive personal accolades. 

He boasts records which include being the youngest scorer in UEFA Youth League history (aged 15 years and 33 days), youngest scorer in Lyon's history (aged 16 years and 140 days), youngest player to play in a Champions League semi-final (aged 17 years and three days) and first 2003-born player to feature in Ligue 1 (aged 16 years and 63 days).

Despite his obvious potential, senior minutes on the pitch for Lyon had up until last season been at a premium. While he technically featured in 49 Ligue 1 matches for the French side between 2019/20 - 2021/22, just nine starts in that time signal that he was often forced to settle for cameo appearances. 

That changed last season, however, following the arrival of manager Laurent Blanc who provided Cherki with the platform to grow and start unleashing his full potential. The teenager played 1,872 Ligue 1 minutes last season, accounting for roughly 55% of his Lyon’s matches. That was a leap from just 440 minutes (13%) in the campaign before. 

Cherki rewarded that faith from his manager with four goals and six assists, making him the youngest player with 10 or more goal involvements in Ligue 1 last season. An impressive return, but one that only scratches the surface in terms of his highlighting his talent. 

He is extremely gifted from a technical perspective. A big factor in that is the fact he’s ambipedal and can use his left or right foot with equal comfort. This aids him in so many ways, one of which is making him a lethal dribbler. 

No player in Ligue 1 who played over 1,500 minutes attempted more dribbles than Cherki last season (7.6 per 90), and keep in mind this was in a league housing skilful superstars like Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. Cherki also led the rankings in terms of the highest number of progressive carries per 90 (6.4).

We can see an example of how his ability to be so unpredictable on the ball can cause havoc for opposition defenders below, taken from Lyon’s 3-0 win over Reims in May. Note the direction Cherki is initially facing when he receives the ball. He is facing his own goal and under pressure from a defender.

Rayan Cherki showing his skills
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The Lyon man turns 180 degrees shrewdly and dribbles away from the pressure before starting to drive at the opponent’s defence. 

Cherki on the ball
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The defender ahead of him starts to turn his body to show Cherki down the line and stop him making a more dangerous central run through the middle. It’s standard to see defenders trying to force attackers in a certain direction where they feel more comfortable defending.

Cherki takes on a defender
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With lightning speed, though, Cherki cuts inside of the defender who is too slow to react and is subsequently forced to bring him down for a foul and yellow card.

Cherki gets fouled
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While Cherki is extremely dangerous in build-up play, it shouldn’t be overlooked that he combines it with a tangible end product. His ten league goal contributions last season highlight that in part, yet, a delve into the underlying numbers illustrates it further.  

Last season at Lyon, he recorded the highest Expected Assist (xA) per 90 average (0.34) and also ranked second at the club for attempting the highest number of shots per 90 (2.93).  

Boasting such a well-rounded attacking artillery, it’s no surprise the attacker was given a very free role for Lyon last season. He played on the left, right, in behind the striker and sometimes even led the line himself. 

As a result of all this, Cherki has put himself on the radar for many top clubs across Europe. Lyon are understandably eager to keep the teenage at Groupama Stadium, yet, that looks like it'll be tough. 

Not least because there was an announcement this month that the French club’s transfer activity and wage bill will be monitored by French football’s financial watchdog, the Direction Nationale du Controle de Gestion (DNCG) due to financial issues, meaning the club might need to sell to improve their books. 

It’s thought Cherki is valued at around £50million after his contract was automatically extended in April by a year until 2025 after an appearance clause was triggered. But given how high the teenager’s ceiling looks, that fee looks like it’d be a worthwhile investment for any interested party. 

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