Hexagoal Ligue 1 Trophy

One to watch: Jonathan Ikoné

Publish on 17/04/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS


Nicolas Pépé has been stealing much of the headlines in Lille this season, but LOSC's incredible transformation from relegation candidates to Paris-Saint-Germain's closest pursuers is also thanks in no small part to Jonathan Ikoné.

PSG may have raced towards a sixth Ligue 1 Conforama title in seven seasons, but the capital club are stumbling over the finish line, with Lille having dealt Thomas Tuchel's side their biggest defeat since December 2000 on Sunday, winning 5-1.


Ikoné was at his devastating best against the champions-elect, first teeing up Pépé to make it 2-1 and then fellow final-third operator Jonathan Bamba for 3-1 before going off to a richly deserved standing ovation, with Rui Fonte taking his place, on 66 minutes.

The France U21 attacker, nominally left-footed, has thrived from his central attacking position behind a main striker, laying on some seven assists in the French top flight this season, while also chipping in with two goals of his own.

But who is the man behind the hype? Read on...

Back story: Just like a certain Kylian Mbappé, Ikoné was born in the Parisian suburb of Bondy in 1998, the year France lifted the FIFA World Cup on home soil. Unlike the man who fired Les Bleus to the top of world football once again in Russia last summer, though, Ikoné was bolted down by PSG from the start.

While Mbappé forged his name at AS Monaco before returning to the French capital in the summer of 2017, Ikoné joined the PSG academy aged 13. A UEFA Youth League finalist and French U19 champion with the club's underage teams, Ikoné grew frustrated at the lack of first-team opportunities at the Parc des Princes following his first-team debut in 2016 and left on loan for Montpellier Hérault SC in January 2017.

On the rise

A goal and an assist in 18 outings at the Stade de la Mosson hinted at Ikoné's ability to mix it with the big boys, and since making the permanent move to LOSC at the start of the season, he has proven it beyond any reasonable doubt.

Ikoné has started 28 of LOSC's 32 games this season, coming off the bench in each of the remaining four. Increasingly becoming a big-game player, the 20-year-old laid on Pépé's winner against his former club Montpellier in December, teed up the Ivorian again for what proved to be the winner against Olympique de Marseille in January, and excelled himself in assisting the aforementioned strikes against his first employers last weekend.

Style of play: Like so many left-footers, Ikoné's early steps in the game were taken out wide, but what Montpellier and then LOSC recognised was that the deceptively diminutive midfielder (Ikoné stands 1.75m-tall and weighs in at 67kg) could be a bundle of attacking force from a more central position.

Ikoné has a low centre of gravity and quick feet, so once he has the ball it is almost impossible to take it off him, as 20 fouls suffered this season will attest. His footballing mind is just as fast, meanwhile, with Ikoné's decision-making, space-finding and distribution that of a much more experienced player. Thirty-nine shots at goal this term, 13 of them on target, suggest that his goals column might catch up with his assists in the not too distant future, too.

What you didn't know: Ikoné and Mbappé were teammates in their youth, spending four formative years together at local boys club AS Bondy, coached by the latter's father, Wilfried. The two have never played together at senior club level, though, Mbappé making his PSG debut the season after Ikoné left.

Ikoné's nickname Jorko may be a nod to Youri Djorkaeff, meanwhile, but it is another France legend, Franck Ribéry, that the youngster grew up admiring. "I loved his style," he explained on LOSC's official website. "His ability to dribble, win one-on-ones in tight spaces, on the right or on the left. I watched all of his videos on YouTube growing up."

Best goal: Ikoné's modus operandi may be driving his team forward - with or without the ball - and late breaks into the box, but his best goal to date was somewhat out of character. Welcoming FC Nantes to their Stade Pierre-Mauroy six games into the season, LOSC had already taken the lead through José Fonte before Ikoné put the game beyond doubt.

Fonte was again involved, his defensive header reaching Ikoné in the final third. Ikoné would normally look for the pass ahead, but his delicate control allowed him to pull the ball out of the sky, and one touch later he had lifted a left-footed shot over 1.96m-tall Ciprian Tatarusanu in the visiting goal.

What he said:

"I was mostly attracted to dribbling growing up, but having been put into the No.10 position I've become more interested in those who can unlock a game, like [Mesut] Özil. Today, I dribble less, I've tried to simplify my game and become better and providing beautiful passes, the final pass before a goal."

What they said:

"It's really nice to coach boys who respect the France jersey. It's a pleasure to see such a state of mind in a young player. He's an effective attacking talent but he's also good in school. A brilliant student."

- Ikoné's former France U16 coach, Jean-Claude Giuntini

"Jonathan is a midfielder with a great future."

- PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi

"We're pleased to have signed Jonathan Ikoné, and we thank him for choosing LOSC as the next step in his career. He's a very talented young player who already has good experience in Ligue 1. He can play wide or through the middle with his power and technique. He's a player with great potential and we thank Paris Saint-Germain for the agreement. He was a very sought-after player."

- LOSC deputy CEO, Marc Ingla