Each season, Lyon seem to have one player to emerge from their academy to become a fixture in their first team. Houssem Aouar is the teenager to have broken through this term.
Having debuted last term off the bench in a 2-1 defeat against Monaco in April, he has rapidly established himself as an important member of Bruno Genesio’s squad, pushing more experienced players such as Jordan Ferri, and even Memphis Depay, to the bench at times.
Over the course of the next fortnight, though, this versatile performer will likely be given the role of Nabil Fekir, who faces a short spell on the sidelines due to a knee injury sustained during Sunday’s derby draw with Saint-Etienne.
It is a critical time of the season for Lyon, with their top-three challenge wavering after a run of five league matches without a win, and with a Coupe de France quarter-final away to Caen and a double header against CSKA Moscow looming in the Europa League.
Aouar has already shown that he is up to the challenge, having amassed 17 Ligue 1 starts in 2017-18. He dazzled against PSG as Lyon stunned the champions elect 2-1 in January, while he even scored on his full debut, showing offensive nous to break from his position on the left wing to turn home a Kenny Tete cutback against Dijon.
“When I was small, I dreamed of this,” he admitted to L’Equipe in November, having grown up in the era of Lyon dominance in Ligue 1, during which he held Juninho as a role model along with Zinedine Zidane, who is also of Algerian ancestry.
But his success has not come naturally.
“At training, I had to double my efforts,” he said. “I know that if I was going to play professionally, to take the place of one of my team-mates, I would have to be two or even three times better than them. That’s made the difference.”
What has been most impressive about his breakout campaign, though, has been the ease with which he has slotted into a myriad of different positions. The 19-year-old, whose birthday is in June, has been asked to play off the left wing, as a No.10 and as a deep-lying box-to-box player. He has not failed in any of these tasks.
“I’ve always played in the middle, so the role of hard-working midfielder is the one that I like the most,” he confessed. “But I like the left wing, too. It allows me to work and to develop other skills. I’ll adapt to anything.
“It doesn’t matter where I play, I know it’s my chance and I’ll play anywhere to take it!”
Aouar is a player who has long been on the radar of many top European clubs. Liverpool tried to sign him before he turned professional with Lyon, and he remains linked with the Anfield club, but so impressive have been his displays this season that Barcelona have been attributed with a keen interest.
Like many of the players who have come through OL’s academy, though, he grew up in Lyon and retains a strong emotional attachment to the city, the kind of which kept Alexandre Lacazette with the Rhone club for so long. For Aouar, though, family is especially important.
“I still live with my mum,” he confessed. “She’s done everything for me and I feel great at her place. She brings me equilibrium.
“Playing in big matches and having cameras trained on me, afterwards to go back to her place, it allows me to keep my feet on the ground – that’s important.
“I give a lot of importance to my family and the city of Lyon, and I’m happy I decided to stay.”
Should Aouar continue to turn in the type of displays he has mustered in recent months, he will have more hard decisions to make in the very near future.