Rayan Cherki, Lyon
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One to watch: Rayan Cherki

Publish on 10/02/2020 at 10h00

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Get to know Rayan Cherki, the 16-year-old who is the latest in a long line of Olympique Lyonnais academy graduates set to lift Les Gones fans off their seats for quite some time to come…

From Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa to Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir, observers of the beautiful game needn't look too hard to find players who have progressed from promising prospect to fully-fledged footballing star at Lyon.

 

Coming from one of the most prolific youth academies in France - and indeed the world over - it is high praise for Cherki that some consider the attacking midfielder to be their most exciting youngster yet.

 

The France youth international scored a brace in Lyon's 4-3 win over FC Nantes in the Coupe de France last month, but what else is there to know?

 

Watch: Cherki is the latest in a long line of Algerian-French Lyon products which include Fekir


 

Back story:

 

Mathis Rayan Cherki was born in Pusignan, a French commune 20 kilometres (12 miles) due east of Lyon to parents of Algerian descent in August 2003, the summer nearby OL were celebrating the second of their seven consecutive Ligue 1 Conforama titles won since the turn of the millennium.

 

After a single season playing in the youth team of lower league outfit AS Saint-Priest, Cherki joined the Lyon academy the summer he turned seven in 2010, and his progress since has been meteoric.

 

Cherki's game intelligence has continually seen him play with age groups above his own, and by 15 he was already turning out for OL's reserve side in the fourth tier of French football.

 

A contract tying him to the club until 2022 was signed last summer and now, still aged just 16, Cherki is already considered a fully paid-up member of coach Rudi Garcia's first-team squad.

 

Style of play:

 

Cherki is a roving number 10 who likes to dictate play behind a central striker. Despite his tender age, he is already alarmingly complete, able to use both feet with almost equal aplomb to unpick a defence with a pass or dribble past a marker.

 

Already a solidly-built 5'9", Cherki is growing into his frame as the months wear on. An unapologetically attacking midfielder who also likes to hit free-kicks, he has, perhaps unsurprisingly, been compared to Ben Arfa as well as current Lyon teammate Houssem Aouar.

 

Cherki has drawn comparisons with former Lyon academy graduate Ben Arfa.

 

Current campaign:

 

With four goals scored in three games in the UEFA Youth League in the early part of this season - against Zenit Saint Petersburg, RB Leipzig and Benfica - as well as five in seven for Lyon's reserves, it is little wonder that Garcia has begun to consider Cherki a part of the first-team squad.

 

Cherki was handed his Ligue 1 Conforama debut in October, replacing Maxwel Cornet in a goalless draw with Dijon FCO at the Groupama Stadium. He also came off the bench against Olympique Lyonnais and Stade de Reims before the turn of the year, and now has a combined 83 minutes of top-flight football under his belt.

 

He really made good on his promise in the 4-3 win over Nantes in the Coupe de France round of 32, though. Cherki scored two goals inside the first 10 minutes - the first having danced around Alban Lafont and slotting home, the second after nutmegging the Fiorentina-owned shot-stopper - before having a hand in the next two goals, scored by Martin Terrier and Moussa Dembélé.

 

What you didn't know:

 

Such a performance may have been a bolt from the blue for some, but nobody at the club was surprised. A difference-maker from the get-go, Cherki first caught the wider public attention in September 2018 when he helped Lyon to a 4-1 win over Manchester City in the UEFA Youth League.

 

The under-19 equivalent to European football's premier competition, Cherki was just 33 days past his 15th birthday, making him, at the time, the youngest ever scorer in the competition.

 

Cherki also shares a birth date with France and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. Henry won the UEFA Champions League with Barcelona in 2009, and if Cherki can maintain his current trajectory, it wouldn't be safe to get against him one day lifting old big ears too.

 

Watch: Cherki's best Ligue 1 Conforama performance yet? (33 minutes in November's 2-1 loss at Olympique de Marseille, during which time Lyon didn't concede...)


 

Best goal:

 

Cherki is yet to open his account in Ligue 1 Conforama, although with Memphis Depay and Jeff Reine-Adélaïde injured he is set to get plenty of minutes in the second half of the season to change that.

 

The best of his three in the Coupe de France was that opener against Nantes. Cherki's fast feet and even quicker thinking made it almost impossible for Lafont to block the danger following Dembélé's deflected shot.

 

What he said:

 

"I'm very happy to sign my first professional contract with the club who trained me. It's the culmination of many years of work. Now the hard part begins. It'll take a lot of work to progress. Juninho's arrival as sporting director tipped the scales. I watched videos of his free-kicks when I was little and today I'll be able to rub shoulders with him."

 

- Cherki on signing his first professional contract at the start of the season.

 

Cherki (c.) and Garcia (r.) are excited to be working together at Lyon.

 

What they said:

 

"He's a player with exceptional qualities. He's already worked with the National 2 group since the start of the season, which is quite rare for a 15-year-old player. He's mature and has great technical qualities. He reminds me of Hatem Ben Arfa."

 

- Lyon coach Rudi Garcia.

 

"Don't speak too much about age"

 

- Kylian Mbappé on Twitter after witnessing Cherki's star turn against Nantes.

 

"We all keep telling him that he'll have the career he deserves if he continues to work hard. The danger is to make him believe he's already one of the best players on the planet."

 

- Garcia, attempted to check expectations surrounding his young star.