Rayan Cherki already has Mbappe's backing but Lyon sensation must keep his feet on the ground

Kylian Mbappe Rayan Cherki PSG LyonGetty/Goal

A mere three weeks into the year and 2020 might already have witnessed the birth of a footballing superstar.

In under a month, Lyon attacker Rayan Cherki has gone from viral sensation to a realistic option for head coach Rudi Garcia in the first team of one of France’s greatest clubs.

Considered to be a player halfway between Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa, Cherki has exploded onto the professional stage and is the latest in a string of fine attackers to graduate from Lyon’s famed academy, following in the footsteps of Sidney Govou, Benzema, Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir.

And like so many of those that have gone before him, he is a local lad whose star is rapidly ascending.

Garcia promoted Cherki to the first-team squad after the teenage sensation had been persistently and controversially overlooked by short-lived predecessor Sylvinho before Christmas and, since then, he has really caught the eye with his fearless and exciting brand of football.

Against third-tier Bourg in the Coupe de France on January 4, he became the club’s youngest-ever scorer, at 16 years and 140 days, finishing with an outrageous lob from inside the box. It was the kind of audacity and composure he had shown time and again in youth matches, only now he was doing so in the first team. 

However, Karim Mekeddem, the home side’s coach, was not particularly impressed with Cherki's 15-minute cameo.

“I'm upset with OL's arrogance over the last quarter of an hour,” he grumbled, having bee particularly upset with what he saw as disrespectful showmanship from Lyon's homegrown hero, whose confidence on the ball left the more experienced players more than a little red-faced.

Rayan Cherki Lyon 2019-20

A fortnight later, Cherki hit the headlines once again in the cup, this time after playing an instrumental role in leading Lyon through to the last 16 with a stunning performance in the last 32 against Nantes.

His night started perfectly as he picked up what appeared to be a mishit Moussa Dembele shot before showing coolness beyond his years to round the goalkeeper and slot into an empty net. Before 10 minutes were up, he had another goal, as he slotted away a Bertrand Traore cut-back. Two assists followed as Lyon ran out 4-3 winners.

It was ample evidence that, despite his young age, he is more than capable of living in the professional world, and this time it won him plaudits for his mentality.

“I don’t want to downplay what he did on his stats because we’re going to praise him to the skies,” Garcia admitted in the aftermath.

“He must listen and work again because he’s still not arrived. He’s off the mark but I must say that he was clever in his choices and made a strong defensive effort. If he continues like this, he will continue to progress.”

But the road has not been without its bumps for a young man who continues to show a stereotypical teenage attitude at times.

Only a week earlier, he had been frustrated by being left on the bench against Bordeaux in Ligue 1 and asked to play for the youth team the following day.

But while he thrived against Bourg’s first team, he flopped against their youngsters in what was described by observers as one of his worst performances in a Lyon shirt.

On the sidelines, his father is reported to have shouted at him: “If you don’t want to play, get off!”

If the player’s attitude was not exemplary, Lyon’s board have been reassured by the confirmation that he has loved ones who will not let him get carried away with his new-found fame.

Rayan Cherki Lyon GFX

“I think Rayan is surrounded by very good people,” Garcia told RMC on Monday. “He is polite and attentive. You’re not like that without a quality entourage. 

“We all keep telling him that he will have the career he deserves if he continues to work. The danger is to make him believe that he is already one of the best players on the planet.”

The media hype, however, is building, fuelled by praise on social media from Kylian Mbappe, who has himself broken a whole sequence of records during his flourishing career.

“Don’t speak too much about age,” the PSG superstar told his followers, having been impressed by Cherki's performance against Nantes.

Thankfully, Lyon’s staff are well used to successfully managing such hype.

“Gerard Houllier had this with Steven Gerrard, who he started at 17 years old,” Garcia continued, referencing the former Liverpool boss, who is currently an advisor at the club.

“He played 15 games, then 25 and then started to play whole seasons. I had the same with Eden Hazard at Lille. You have to watch, see how the player behaves and be careful.”

There is set to be a clamour, however, for Lyon’s new wonderkid to be thrust regularly into the spotlight, particularly with key offensive catalysts Memphis Depay and Jeff Reine-Adelaide injured.

Resisting will be difficult for Garcia, particularly in light of Cherki’s stellar showing against Nantes, but managing him judiciously will be key in ensuring that he reaches his potential, which is already being spoken about in the Mbappe bracket.

If Ben Arfa is the player that Cherki is most often likened to, the teenager could well look at the career trajectory of the 32-year-old, who should still be lighting up one of Europe’s top leagues.

Instead, he remains a free agent, having departed Rennes last summer following a good year in Brittany which came after a disastrous spell at Paris Saint-Germain.

Ben Arfa’s career choices and attitude failed to match his talent and he will be forgotten but for those who caught a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.

It is a tale that Cherki should note. He may have the tools to reach the top, but as Garcia was so keen to stress, this is a prodigious talent who has made a positive start to his career.

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Who is the best No.9 in the world?

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