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With all the focus in French football being pulled toward two distinct corners right now—that of Paris Saint-Germain and Neymar, and that of Monaco and Kylian Mbappe—it’s quite feasible that the quiet ascent of Lyon’s Myziane Maolida passed you by.
In the space of two months, the teenager has carved out a reputation for himself as one of the continent’s most promising forwards, even attracting the interests of Barcelona. According to Telefoot (h/t Get French Football News), an €8 million bid was rejected last week without a moment’s hesitation.
That’s quite the turn of events for an 18-year-old who, up until July, had essentially been restricted to reserve and youth football. He spent the early part of the summer performing alongside a host of fine young under-19 French talents—such as Jeff Reine-Adelaide (Arsenal), Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig), Alec Georgen and Odsonne Edouard (both PSG)—so the likely explanation is he caught the eye of scouts there.
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Lyon, though, are determined to keep him, and there’s a tangible measure of trust in him already. This past weekend we saw him thrown on at 0-0 against Nantes with Les Gones searching for a goal, having made his Ligue 1 debut in Gameweek 1 vs. Strasbourg.
They’ll likely have been hoping for the kind of impact he showed against Celtic in pre-season, where he cut in from the left, danced past two markers, skipped a third’s challenge and then finished from an incredibly acute angle. It was an eye-popping solo move that capped a successful 60 minutes against the Scottish outfit; if Lionel Messi had managed it, social media would have exploded.
It’d be remiss to consider that part of Maolida’s regular set of tricks, though; he’s been no Jordi Mboula at youth level. Instead, his play at UEFA Youth League level last season demonstrated two clear strengths in his game: an ability to create clear-cut chances when dribbling forward with the ball, and an insane work rate that delivers both defensive support and creates opportunities by forcing errors while pressing. His versatility is also a boon: He can play left wing, right wing or as the central striker.
He’s quick when pushing onward in possession, but he is also willing to slow play down or check back to create a different angle. The weighting of his through-balls—as seen in the Youth League and against Bourg-en-Bresse in pre-season—can be perfect and create excellent chances for team-mates.
Lyon manager Bruno Genesio tried him in all three positions across the front line during pre-season, assessing where the limitations lay in making the step from youth to senior football, and one thing became clear pretty quickly: He’s not strong enough to hold the ball up as the centre-forward just yet. He lost it far too frequently over the summer when trying and misplaced far too many passes under one-on-one pressure when trying to link play.
When that happened, he tended to pull or drift to the left and drop deeper to find space to play in. It left OL without a striker or a focal point at times, and it laid clear where on the pitch Maolida feels at his most comfortable.
The one positive from his frequent losing of the ball was the fact it gave him the opportunity to showcase his willingness to win it back. He pressured centre-backs diligently and, when he felt it necessary, tore back to chase and dispossess opposition runners. He took that into his cameo against Nantes, sprinting more than half the pitch to tackle and halt Samuel Moutoussamy’s dangerous run.
Short-term, Maolida’s a slightly rangy winger who is at his best driving into space and dipping in off the flank. But at 18 he’s already 5’11” and 70 kg; two or three more years of natural growth could easily see him eclipse the six-foot mark, and if he adds weight to his frame, he’ll be able to bed in and protect the ball as a centre-forward far better.
Long-term, we might well be looking at a striker. That will bring its own set of challenges and tasks—such as learning to be accurate with short distribution while holding off a marker, and learning to run off the shoulder more rather than always dropping in to receive possession back to goal—but Maolida will naturally feel those out as he becomes physically capable.
All statistics via WhoScored.com