Talented Tanguy Ndombele Characterises Lyon’s Recruitment Strategy

ombeleOn the surface, it looked like Lyon were in for a tough season. They didn’t just lose Ligue 1 superstar Alexandre Lacazette, their goalscoring machine, to Arsenal, but they also lost all-round midfielder Corentin Tolisso to Bayern Munich. Those were the biggest names to go, but midfield stalwart Maxime Gonalons also moved on, this time to AS Roma, while young centre-back Emanuel Mammana headed for Zenit St. Petersburg in a deal worth £14.4 million. A few others also found a path out of Lyon, so if Bruno Genesio’s men hoped to compete this season, they needed to go big in order to find replacements.

They did just that, too. They didn’t spend large sums on a single player, but rather spent a lot of money on a wide variety on individuals. Guys like perpetual Chelsea loanee Bertrand Traore and Kenny Tete, who both played at Ajax last season, arrived in the close season. Real Madrid forward Mariano also came in, as a means through which to fill the void left by Lacazette, and Le Havre defender Ferland Mendy and Celta Vigo midfielder Pape Cheikh linked up with the club as well. These are just a few of Lyon’s signings, but they have a few things in common.

The first is youth. Only two of Lyon’s major signings, Turkish league winner Marcelo and Benfica fullback Marcal, are over the age of 23. The second is that these players were viewed as bargains who, after doing well in lesser leagues, could come in and have a big impact. Of course, Cheikh, having played in La Liga, falls outside of that grouping, but when you consider Mendy spent last season in France’s second tier, Traore and Tete operated in the smaller Dutch Eredivisie and Marcelo went to work in Turkey, it’s fair to suggest that Lyon scouted heavily and looked for opportunities to bring in gifted players at affordable prices.

In fact, none of these guys cost more than £10 million, at least on the initial transfer fee. Of course, there is some risk attached to this strategy, but it’s also the kind of thing that clubs that don’t have massive budgets, especially in France, like to do. Bring in young stars, mould and shape them and hope to turn them into either first-team stars or profit generators. This is easier said than done, but at least in the early-going, Lyon look to have got a lot right.

Traore and Tete are starting on the right-hand side, at right-wing and right-back respectively, while Marcelo has slotted straight in at centre-back. Mariano has also stolen some headlines, banging in the four goals to kickstart Lyon’s campaign, and Mendy has played twice on the left-side of defence. Throw in some strong performances from established Lyon stars like Nabil Fekir, who has scored four goals to go along with two assists, and, after six games, Les Gones find themselves only four points off second-place sitters Monaco.

They did suffer a setback last weekend, losing to an almost untouchable PSG by a 2-0 scoreline, but things weren’t all bad in that game either. PSG had to wait until the final 15 minutes to find the breakthrough, and up until that point, Lyon were compact and astute defensively before springing forward in transition. Genesio’s side had a number of opportunities to open the scoring, and when Tanguy Ndombele, another new signing who fits their recruiting strategy perfectly, blasted a long-range strike into the crossbar, they went extraordinarily close to breaking the 0-0 deadlock. Ultimately, they were unable to do that, but despite eventually succumbing to Neymar and company, their youngsters again acquitted themselves well.

The last man mentioned there, Ndombele, was particularly impressive. He played with Amiens last season, and helped them to rise from Ligue 2 to earn promotion to the French top-flight. Again, he’s still developing, at just 20 years of age, and again, he spent last year in a comparatively obscure league. Given Lyon’s style of working the transfer market, neither of those things should come as a surprise, and the fact that they got him on a loan-to-buy deal, which could total around £10 million, isn’t surprising either.

In other words, he’s Lyon’s kind of signing, and on his Ligue 1 debut for the club, he showed why they were so happy to buy him. He produced a punchy central-midfield display, and alongside the more reserved and composed Lucas Tousart, he used his athletic talent to sprint into attacking positions whenever possible. This box-to-box role almost allowed Lyon to win a penalty in the opening stages, when Ndombele eased past Julian Draxler, with a slick turn, before being bundled over by Layvin Kurzawa. In probably should’ve resulted in a spot-kick, but the referee waved away the protests.

Undeterred, Ndombele continued to play his all-action game. He dribbled forward with verve and authority, collecting two successful dribbles during his 70 minutes on the pitch, and when you consider that he averaged a ridiculous 4.7 successful dribbles per game in his first 3 league games of the season, which were played with former club Amiens, this wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan sort of showing. He showed off his genuine ball carrying capabilities from the centre of midfield, and with a combination of sharp turns and strength, he wasn’t an easy man to stop for PSG’s expensively assembled squad.

In defence, too, he did his job. Despite being the more attacking player in the heart of Lyon’s midfield, he still held his shape nicely alongside Tousart. He collected one tackle, a strong effort to firstly dispossess and then hold off Kylian Mbappe, as well as two interceptions against PSG. One of those was an absolute cracker, with the youngster nipping in ahead of Thiago Motta to launch a counter-attack. Lyon substitute Maxwel Cornet didn’t make the most of it, only managing to win a corner, but that led to yet another significant effort from Ndombele.

In the wake of that corner, he collected possession and took a couple of touches to steady himself. That allowed him to launch the aforementioned thunderbolt, from about 35-yards out. It crashed into the crossbar, which rattled violently upon impact. That pretty much finished Ndombele’s day at the office, as he was soon substituted for Christopher Martins Pereira, but that moment hinted at his athletic power and potential.

Ndombele didn’t do everything right, though. He still has a slight rawness to his game, which leads not only to the odd misplaced pass but also, in certain circumstances, an over-adventurous approach in defensive positions. It’s that slightly impulsive play that he will want to refine, but if he can temper that, in order to combine his attacking instincts with a bit more in the way of composure, then he has every chance of capitalising on his potential.

There’s still a long way to go for Ndombele, as there is for many of his new Lyon teammates, but things are looking promising for both him and his teammates. After all, there is something nice about a young group coming together, especially after a slew of big name departures, to try and create the next great team. Lyon are sitting in sixth place after 6 league matches, and with a tough early contest against PSG now behind them, they have the chance to kick on.

Who knows, it might even be this group, even without the likes of Lacazette, Tolisso and Gonalons, who can deliver Les Gones back to UEFA Champions League football.