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Can Algeria switch help relaunch Aouar’s career?

Can Algeria switch help relaunch Aouar’s career?

Publish on 03/17 at 02:13 - A. SCOTT


Houssem Aouar’s career at Olympique Lyonnais has stalled this season after a transfer away from the club failed to materialise, but the supremely gifted midfielder will hope opting to represent Algeria can catapult him back to the forefront at club level.

The 24-year-old Lyon-born playmaker represented the France Under-21 side on 17 occasions before being called up by Didier Deschamps to play for the senior side, making his debut in a 7-1 friendly win over Ukraine in October 2020. That, however, remains his only cap. With it coming in a friendly, he was able to switch international allegiance and has now done so, accepting the call to play for Algeria as they prepare for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations in the Ivory Coast.

‘Meant to be’

“It had been going through my head for a while but I didn’t want to make an approach myself because I was afraid of coming across as an opportunist,” Aouar,  who has Algerian origins as well as family in the North African country, said in an interview with the Algerian Football Federation. “The president held his hand out to me and it seemed like it was just meant to be. I had a second chance and I jumped on it.

“It represents a lot to me. In all honesty, after choosing to play for France I regretted it and then I felt for me personally I hadn’t made the best choice.”

The transfer that never happened

Aouar is far from the first local boy with Algerian roots to break through and become a star for Lyon, following on from the likes of Karim Benzema and Nabil Fekir in the past. Both of them went on to star at international level for Les Bleus, with Fekir featuring in the France squad when they won the World Cup in 2018.

Perhaps Aouar would have gone on to win many more caps for the land of his birth if his career had continued its rapid upward trajectory. He made his senior OL debut in a 4-1 Europa League win over AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands under Bruno Génésio as an 18-year-old in February 2017 and his Ligue 1 bow followed in the spring of that year. By late 2019 he had been given the captain’s armband by Rudi Garcia and the following summer he was outstanding as Lyon stunned Juventus and Manchester City on their way to the Champions League semi-finals.

A transfer abroad to one of Europe’s giants seemed inevitable, with City, Juventus and Arsenal linked with a move for Aouar and that France call-up coming later that year. At one point there were reports of Juventus being ready to pay up to €70 million for him. Yet Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas persuaded him to stay on the banks of the Rhône.

“I had a choice to make and I am satisfied with staying here. Jean-Michel Aulas convinced me to stay at Lyon, (former sporting director) Juninho too. He showed his confidence in me and I am proud to stay for another season,” he said at the time.

Frozen out

Again a move away did not transpire the following year, and he went on to score eight goals in 45 appearances in all competitions last season. As he entered the final year of his contract it seemed the long-mooted transfer would finally happen ahead of this season. But once again nothing was finalised, with Aouar saying he had agreed deals with interested parties only for Lyon to fail to agree on a fee.

“It was a stressful transfer window for me, but I had reached agreement with most of the clubs who were interested in me,” he told sports daily L’Equipe, who reported interest from Real Betis, Nottingham Forest and Benfica. “They were clubs of differing standings, with different projects, but I didn’t put up any obstacles. Unfortunately, OL could not reach an agreement with any of the interested clubs. I just have to respect that, which is not a problem. But I never shut the door on anyone. The club wanted to sell me, I wanted to leave, but OL did not reach an agreement, which I understand.”

Yet having been frozen out at the start of the season pending an expected move away, Aouar was not brought back into the team under coach Peter Bosz. He made just one appearance this season before Bosz was sacked in October. Reintroduced to the side under new coach Laurent Blanc, he has since been plagued by fitness issues.

“People wonder how you can go from playing 44 matches last season to hardly playing this season,” he told the Algerian Federation. “I don’t have the answers as to what happened at the start of this season. It is not me you should be asking. Then when Laurent Blanc came in as coach he immediately brought me back into the starting line-up but unfortunately I had a few fitness problems and now I am getting back to full fitness little by little.”

His future at club level will be up for discussion again soon, but for now he will hope to play a key part in the remaining months of the season for Lyon. There is a trophy to try to win with his boyhood club, who are in the semi-finals of the Coupe de France, before the possibility of a continental title to play for with Algeria next year.

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